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Monday, January 31, 2005 - As we approach the spring and summer of 2005, a great opportunity may come our way as residents of Interior Alaska. With the large number of wildfires that burned more than 6 million acres in 2004, the summer of 2005 may bring massive amounts of morel mushrooms within the burned areas.
Environmental factors will also have a great bearing on the number of morels that are produced. Without the correct moisture level and temperature, we may see few to no morels. However, if the environment cooperates, we will be inundated with morels in many of the severely burned areas.
This article is intended to educate the reader with some of the most important information on morel mushrooms. It is in no way a complete information source on morels. Identification of morels is the responsibility of the picker.
The following are a few guidelines to use when harvesting morels:
1. Know whose land you are picking on and either go through the permitting process or have prior approval.
2. Collect mushrooms in baskets or buckets with holes to increase aeration and prevent molding. Don't use plastic bags.
3. Discard very young or old mushrooms, which are difficult to identify accurately. Older mushrooms also can be tough or filled with insect larvae.
4. Do not wash the morels because this hastens the decomposition process and can ruin your harvest. As you pick them, be careful to not include soil or other debris that could contaminate or lessen the quality of the morels. Cutting the morels' stems with a small knife will allow soil and other contaminants to stay on the ground.
5. Keep mushrooms cool. If you want to store them, let them air dry or place them in an electric food dryer. If you need to keep them in the field for an extended period of time without drying them, keep them in the shade with a moist--not wet--towel draped over them.
6. Always be a good steward of the land. Leave some of the mushrooms you find. Do not collect mushrooms from previously harvested areas; leave the rest for wildlife food and to reproduce other mushrooms.
One major question folks tend to have about morels is when the little guys will appear. Here are a few tips to follow:
1. Morels tend to show up the year after wildfires in conifer and hardwood forests.
2. They appear above ground when conditions are warm and wet.
3. They grow directly on the soil.
4. They do not tend to be in boggy areas because they are too wet.
5. They prefer highly organic soils.
6. Pickers should start to look soon after rains.
7. A good sign to look for in the Interior is when the bluebells are blooming. It is also known that mid-June until mid- to late July is the best time for picking within the Interior.
After a successful harvest, morels can be preserved through drying and freezing. The UAF Cooperative Extension Service is working hard to finish a publication on how to preserve morels by summer. One important thing to remember when consuming morels is that they need to be cooked before eating. Just drying or freezing the morels doesn't constitute cooking.
We hopefully will be lucky to have such a delicacy springing up in our back yard, so let's take advantage of it.
Finally, I want to reiterate the importance of knowing what you are picking. It is the responsibility of the picker to identify which mushrooms are edible and which ones are not. It is best to err on the side of caution--when in doubt, throw it out.
The Cooperative Extension Service, along with other state and federal agencies, is planning to hold a workshop in Fairbanks on morels. Watch for announcements of time and date.
If you have any questions about this article, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy picking.
Jay Moore is a land resources agent with the Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture