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Springs rains have kicked off a morel mushroom bonanza in parts of Montana. ??I've never had that many mushrooms. I've never seen that many mushrooms,'' said Russ Schlievert, co-owner of Hotel Montana at Reed Point.
He had just been offered, and quickly bought, a washtub full of morel mushrooms, all washed and cleaned and weighing in at 36 pounds. Last year, Schlievert said he could only buy four pounds. This year, he's already bought 60 pounds.
??After years of drought, all of this rain has surely enticed them to spring up,'' he said. Morels are considered a tasty treat by mushroom fanciers.
Cathy Cripps, an assistant professor at Montana State University specializing in the study of fungi, said the timing of the rain was just as critical as the moisture itself. ??It's an absolutely exceptional year because we've had all this rain at just the right time,'' she told The Billings Gazette.
George Ostwald of Columbus managed to pick between 300 and 400 pounds of morels in four days of hunting. He estimated the largest at half a pound.
This is the first time he has sold any of his mushrooms, offering them to restaurants between Billings and Big Timber at $10 a pound. Bidding on the online auction site eBay went to $30 a pound, and Ostwald said he hauled in $3,000.
??It's a little side thing to do this time of year if you can get into the hot spots,'' he told the Gazette.
Cripps said she can gauge exactly when the morel season comes on. Her phone starts ringing just before they're about to appear. Then it stops abruptly. ??That's when I know they're all out picking.''
She said the morels typically appear in mid-May, pretty much from Michigan to Montana. The yellow or blonde morels show first, followed in mid-June by the black morels, ??whose season can run into July,'' Cripps said.