Sportsmens Report
May 27, 2018
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Sportsman’s Report: Hunting for fire Morels

  • A Morel mushroom. Photo courtesy Mycoweb.com editors

By: Bill Hanson
April 20, 2018

Getting out of the car the devastation falls on you like a ton of bricks, again. Reading about the fires, driving by, listening to the stories all pale in comparison to that first sniff of charred wood. The owner had lost everything in a few terrifying minutes last October. The air was brisk, the recent rains left the trail ahead muddy, yet among all this char, a healthy green frizz of grass was evident. The trees that were not completely burnt have new growth, some birds move, noisily, among the foliage. As we made our way up the trail we spot deer tracks in the mud, one set a doe and her fawn, nature renewed.

Our objective is a small canyon that was not entirely burned. After the quarter-mile hike we come upon the brow of a hill. The trees do still sport some greenery that was not consumed by the conflagration. As we walk closer the understood shows new growth, the trees are only partially burned, the green limbs interspersed with those that are black twigs. 

Our objective is the fire morel, a mushroom that grows after spring rains in an area that had been burned the previous year. Clomping up the small drainage I find the first copse of mushrooms, “Houston! We have morels!” I shout. 

A few minutes later both sides sing out. We spend an hour on our knees in the muck, slicing off the odd looking little devils and adding them to our ‘carry’ basket. Experienced mushroom hunters carry a backpack with rigid empty boxes inside. Once your carry basket is full you stop and carefully transfer from one to the other, this gives them protection against banging around as you collect other mushrooms. It also prohibits sandy soil from sifting down upon those already in the basket. The basket is of a loose weave which allows the spore to sift through, thus sprinkling spore further as you collect, much wider than nature can do with just wind and rain. 

Morels are one of the most sought-after edibles ‘choice edible’ in the books. They have a face only a mother could love, their shape has been described as a pine cone, a wider base tapering up to a point. Morels are absent of a “gill” and instead they have ‘” obes” on the outside where the spore holds onto the parent. Spores are the seeds of a mushroom, which is the fruiting body of the underground parent, the mycellium. If you’ve flipped over an old board and found white, webby material, you were looking at a mycelium. 

When it feels the time is right it will sprout a fruiting body that is loaded with spore, the seeds of its eventual progeny. The process has been described as an upside down apple tree, the tree is underground and the seed bearing apple (mushroom) is on the ground, anxious to drop its spore. This spore grows only where conditions are just right, the ph. is correct and there is sufficient material for the new plant/animal to begin life anew. 

To read more about morels, go to: www.mykoweb.com and drill down to the alphabetical listing. Select Morchella and click on M. Elata. There are some great pictures of the mushroom and text that will help you identify them. Morels are slightly toxic until they are cooked, the chemical signature is similar to aviation fuel and is heat volatile, but with cooking the chemical is gone and you can eat them. Mykoweb also has a few recipes or you can find a galaxy of them on the web. This mushroom has been a choice edible for many years. At some of the better restaurants you can add a morel sauce to your plate for an extra $25. Full baskets to you.

Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Mycological Society. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.