Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Morel mushroom madness crops up as fast as the elusive prize

(Rob Drieslein photo)

ANDERSON, Ind. — Ominous skies and the threat of a torrential downpour did not keep determined morel hunters out of Mounds State Park recently.

Parking near tree line edges, they slipped quietly into the woods. Some of the mushroom hunters carried onion bag containers, mesh laundry bags and plastic grocery bags to store any morels they found.

It was clear the hunters were acting in secrecy to keep their favorite hunting locations hidden, and a few occasionally glanced nervously over their shoulders to see if they were being watched. Others took a more nonchalant approach as if on a stroll before quickly sidestepping off a trail and disappearing in the brush.

Morels are often coveted, not only for their taste, but because they are very difficult to find.

While mushrooms are not always a favorite for everyone, the morel mushroom has a fanbase in some non-mushroom lovers who have been won over by the taste of a fresh morel soaked in saltwater, dredged in flour and fried to perfection.

Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli, a famous chef on the Food Network, has referred to the morel as the “sacred mushroom.”

The morel’s short growing period can also prove to be a moneymaker for those licensed to sell the mushrooms. They’re currently selling on Walmart’s website for $29.99 an ounce.

Marilyn Lewis, office manager at Mounds State Park, said mushroom hunting is allowed on the property, which totals 290 acres.

“We get quite a few,” she said about inquiries into mushroom hunting.

Cost into the park is $7 a car for Indiana residents and $9 per car for nonresidents. Yearly passes – good at any Indiana state park or reservoir – are $50 a year. Both day and yearly passes are available for purchase at the park’s front entrance.

Social media is already abuzz with morel madness as hunters try to determine whether the mushroom that can appear overnight and remain maddeningly elusive is showing up locally.

Ideal weather conditions for the great morel is when daytime temperatures are in the 60s and nighttime temperatures are in the 40s, according to a website called The Great Morel. They can normally be found on southerly slopes and sunny areas before showing up on the northern side of hills or in the shade.

Indiana’s erratic weather conditions in the spring, however, can make it difficult to pinpoint the brief two-week hunting season for morels, so some hunters watch for budding lilacs, open mayapples and blooming dandelions to indicate the season has begun.

Debbie Condon, 62, of Anderson said she keeps an eye out for mayapples before heading into the woods to search for mushrooms.

“As far back as I can remember, my grandma used to take us kids,” she said. “I swear my grandma could see mushrooms that wasn’t even half an inch tall.”

Morels are difficult to spot on the wooded floor and often blend perfectly with their surroundings, but their spongy and honeycomb-looking top gives them a distinctive appearance. Mushroom hunters warn of false morels that resemble the morel, but are poisonous when consumed.

Novice mushroom hunters should seek expert advice before eating any wild mushrooms.

Condon said there are years when she has missed the mushroom hunting season altogether because it is so brief. She said she plans to start hunting this weekend.

“I obviously don’t like to go hunting in the rain, but you can,” she said. “In all honesty, I’ve seen my grandma find them in the snow.”

The only deterrent for Condon is when she stumbles across snakes while hunting for mushrooms.

“Then I’m done,” she said with a laugh.

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