Frugal Family Fun: Morel Hunting

May is morel hunting time in our part of the country. When the weather warms and the rains fall, it is time to go to our favorite places and search for the elusive fungi!

The morel is one of the only edible mushrooms that I can identify beyond the shadow of a doubt, besides the big puffballs that we don’t care to eat. You should never pick and eat any mushroom that you haven’t identified without doubt.

We started hunting morels when my daughter became fascinated by fungi. She wanted to go morel hunting, and I remembered seeing one in a nearby county park many years before. I noticed it growing along a hiking trail and filed it away in memory (as I do a lot of things). We went back to that park and started combing the woods in the area where I had seen the original mushroom—and got lucky! Picking morels is like treasure hunting—once you have a little success, you just can’t stop.

People have all sorts of theories about where to find morels. A lot of them must be good because they sell hundreds of pounds of them around here every spring, but we have found them everywhere from grassy campsites to dense woods. I’m just happy when I find them at all! Morel hunters keep their hunting places secret, but we have the advantage of being able to go into the woods during the week when most of the other hunters are driving to work in their SUVs.

During the morel season, we go hunting whenever there has been rain followed by a few warm days. We never have gotten huge quantities but have always had a good time cutting the brush and enjoying the spring ephemeral wild flowers, and especially the orchids, that appear in the woods at the same time as the mushrooms.

We carry our finds home in paper bags and rinse and spin the water and any little bugs away with a salad spinner. (Every kitchen should have one!) Then we put flour, pepper, and garlic salt in a clean paper bag and beat up an egg with a couple tablespoons of water in a shallow bowl. We dip the damp morels in the egg wash and then drop them into the paper bag with the flour mixture and shake to coat. Meanwhile, we have some extra virgin olive oil heating up on the stove. When a crumb of the coating mixture sizzles when dropped into the hot oil, we know that it is time to start frying them. Some folks prefer to cook morels in butter, but we think that it overwhelms their delicate taste. The mushrooms are done when they are golden brown and crisp. We drain them on (yes!) paper towels and eat them as appetizers.

Besides the gas to get to the park and the cost of the electricity to cook them, picking and eating morels is a fun but affordable activity and has become one our family traditions as well. Happy Hunting! Begonia

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