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InvisibleveggieM

Registered: 07/26/04
Posts: 15,132
The great hunt for ...MORELS [OR]
    #8416211 - 05/18/08 02:42 PM (13 years, 6 months ago)

The great hunt for ...MORELS
May 17, 2008 - eastoregonian.info

Snows are receding, temperatures are rising and mushroom hunters are about to hit the trail.

Now is the beginning of mushroom season all over northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington, though the late snows have delayed the start in some higher areas.

While snow mushrooms and boletus are common in our area, the most prized and sought after is the morel. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is that a morel looks like almost nothing but itself in the woods. It cannot easily be mistaken for any other fungi that might be inedible - or worse, poisonous. A "sea sponge on a stalk" is an apt description. The fact that morels are exceptionally difficult to grow commercially doesn't hurt its appeal. If you are going to get them, you will have to pick them yourself or buy them from a store that bought them from a commercial picker.

One cautionary note: One mushroom is classed with the morels and that is the "false morel." However, the false morel really does not look like the real thing, especially when compared to our local specimens. Just remember: True morels have the head attached to the stem; false morels do not. False morels are very infrequent in our area and are not considered edible.

From the family ascomycete, there are nine or more species of morels. For the local picker, two species are more often found than the others.

According to Robert Vaughn, a local morel buyer based in Pilot Rock, the professional pickers and buyers call them by their field names or "yellow" and "fire" or "black."

Yellow morels (Morchella esculenta) are found in our area on the banks of ponds, reservoirs and in damp hardwood forested areas in the spring. "Yellows" seem to particularly like the base of cottonwood trees. They tend to be largest of the morels, with specimens in the Hermiston area being found more than eight inches in height. They are light in color and run from tan to a creamy white.

Black morels (Morchella augusticeps) are found around the pine and fir forests of our area. They are also often called fire morels as they are frequently found in an area that has had a forest fire the previous year. They are darker and smaller than their flat land cousins, but have been found as large as five inches in height. They are the most common of the morels that one is likely to pick in our area and the one most likely to be found by the beginning mushroom hunter.

Bluntly, getting the exact location of a favorite picking spot from most morel lovers can be like pulling teeth on a charging elephant. It just ain't gonna happen easily.

According to Joanie Bosworth with the U.S. Forest Service, in the open forest any area that has seen a wildfire or a soil disturbance (like logging) in the past year is a good place to look. The areas where a forest meadow blends into the heavy timber on Mt. Emily is one favorite place for many local pickers. The forest service roads through and around the Ukiah Ranger District are another.

In the flatlands, near the edge of the water in treed areas of Cold Springs, the Columbia River and McKay Reservoir have yielded impressive results. Any pond area where there are trees is a good prospecting place. In these areas, do not ignore open patches of sand as they are often found there as well.

There are a lot of good theories about just when to begin hunting morels - from mid-April all the way to mid-June. Old timers have a lot of sayings about when to pick, most rooted in folklore. Morels like warmer weather to begin to produce. "When the cotton flies" from cotton wood trees is one occasionally accurate plan.

Avid picker Florence Dixon of Halfway claims it takes a "warm rain."

A source at the U.S. Forest Service said that when the high temperature for the day and the low temperature for the day total 100 degrees, for at least three days consecutively, the morels will be popping up.

According to Doherty, his company begins seeing good quantities of mushrooms coming out of the forest about the second week of May.

Especially in the mountains, temperatures can vary widely even along the same hill side. If you are in a likely area and not finding any, it is a good idea to change altitude on a slope before giving up on that area.

Hunting morels is called just that - 'hunting' as it resembles the search for game. Walk slowly and carefully, looking especially in the areas of dead falls and recently disturbed ground. When one morel is found, the best course of action is to freeze. Act as if it would run away. Then look around in about a 10-foot circle from where you are standing. Where there is one, there are likely to be more. As often as not, you may find your shoe is against another or on top of one.

The mushroom you see is the fruiting body of a fungi plant that spreads underground. According to Vaughn, all mushrooms should be cut off at the ground level with a sharp knife. Pulling them up or snapping them off by hand tends to disrupt the plant below the surface and prevent it from sending up more mushrooms this season. After picking, it is best to keep the mushrooms in a dry but cool container. Never use a plastic sack or container because these do not breathe and can cause spoilage. A paper bag is best.

In the National Forest, picking of mushrooms is allowed in quantities up to one gallon per person. After that, you are required to have a commercial license. Licenses are available at the Umatilla National Forest Ranger Office in Pendleton and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest office in La Grande. According to Bosworth, the cost is $50 for a seasonal permit or $2 a day with a minimum 10-day purchase. She says the Forest Service sells a lot of permits, having taken some $18,000 in mushroom license revenue last year.

According to Joseph Doherty, a mushroom buyer who is based in Bend, morels growing in the Mt. Emily and Ukiah areas are considered among the very best specimens in the world.

When Pope Benedict was visiting the U.S. this past month, the caterer, Cafe Milano, had Oregon morels flown to Washington, D.C., to be on the menu. Unfortunately, Cafe Milano would not tell us how they were prepared, citing secrecy. We do know that of all the delicacies that could be offered, that night the Pope dined on Oregon morels.


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