Sportsmens Report
June 24, 2017
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No snow morel mushrooms alert!

By: Bill Hanson
April 28, 2017

The weekend in Truckee was a bit of a letdown. Although any visit to the Tahoe Basin is refreshing, unless you make the mistake of going during peak summer weekends. The clean air, sky blue water and majestic trees are what we all love, on busy summer weekends, the roadways are clogged with traffic, people frantic to have a good time, getting in one another's way. The alpine beauty is transformed into a hot, dreary, frustrating, big-city-at rush-hour experience. Our goal was a late season downhill skiing weekend. The snow is a wet, slushy mess, several ski resorts are closed, ski schools at those still-open, are closed. The big storms this winter had a great effect on the snow pack and on the fortunes of ski resort operators. After years of low or no snow they were making up for lost ground this winter. Easter seems to be the end of the season, although this year, given the record snow pack, the expectations were high for a late season trip. One thing that is startling is the number of trees down. The prolonged wet weather, then howling winds and deep saturation caused trees to come down in the millions. ‘Wind Fall’ trees are everywhere, we have them here as well, but the Sierra was hit especially hard. One mountain spring time hobby is the pursuit of morel mushrooms. The morel is usually in the top three edibles for fungiphiles. The odd fungus imparts a deep, woodsy flavor to your sauce or baked dish. The morel is also excellent dried and rehydrated in most any sauce. Morels, dried and stored in bags or canning jars, can be excellent fare eight years after harvest. In the mid-west the morel is one of the few edibles harvested in the wild. Stories of fields of morels in the flatlands of Idaho are legendary. When they are up in abundance, field brokers spring up along roadsides offering to buy the fruit by the pound. For our part of the country, we find them primarily in the spring after a forest fire. They are best in zones where the fires did not consume everything, just a thorough burn that leaves some green growth. Also in areas that have been stressed by logging, road building or other activities. The high mountain meadows also yield ‘natural’ morels, some a dark blond color, some in basic black. The little devils are hard to find, you can be standing in the middle of a patch and see nothing. When you spot them, stop, blink and look around carefully. They may be literally underfoot. Here are some tips for my readers; research last year’s fires before you plan your trip. Given the conflagrations of last year there will be lots to choose from. Cal Fire Incident Reports are an excellent source for research, they can grow in great abundance the spring after a fire. Be sure to check with the ranger in the area you plan to harvest. Some require a permit just to look, others will issue a permit fee free, most have daily quotas on ‘take’. Ranger districts are not the same as other boundaries, be careful, fines can be in the hundreds. They may also be able to point out areas that were actively logged last summer. Morels are easy to identify but the hungry eyes of beginners can make mistakes. Go to the best web site in the business for California: search ‘species index’ and enter ‘morel’ numerous photos and ‘look alike’ mushrooms are illustrated. The site will also give some warning about cooking morel, fresh or dehydrated, they can be toxic. The toxin is heat sensitive which means that you cook them for twenty minutes at simmer and they are safe to eat. They are buggers to clean, they have lobes of crinkles and wrinkles that hold onto sand and soot. They are hollow so do a quick wash in a stream to get much of the sand out, then gently toss them in a strainer and let them dry for an hour or so. Do not transport morels or any mushroom wet. When you get home, you can clean them more thoroughly, cut them down the middle to open the hollow center. Rinse them in several changes of cold water in the sink until there is not any grit left in the bottom. Then do one more rinse with salted water, about ¼ cup for two gallons of cold water. Toss them again and let them dry in the dish rack. At this point cook or dehydrate. Here is another secret for my readers, highway 50 is the northern most limit and on the ‘west’ slope only. You will save lots and lots of time following this rule. Go about two weeks after the snow recedes and the ground is still a bit soggy in some spots. See you in the field. Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.