These are a tasty delicacy anyone can forage from the forest. Although learning how to identify morel mushrooms is not always easy. There are some lookalikes that can confuse you.
I’ve been a tree planter for many years now, I’ve had the opportunity to see morel mushrooms numerous times. They’re quite weird to look at, so it’s definitely a mushroom you wouldn’t forget.
They have an interesting flavor and frankly, are really fascinating. I think any mushroom lover should go hunt for them, so I decided to share my knowledge with you and teach you how to identify morel mushrooms.
In this guide, you can expect to learn the following:
- The Morel Mushroom Picking Season
- How to Identify Morel Mushrooms
- Where Morel Mushrooms are Found
- What Morel Mushrooms Taste Like
- How to Store, Clean and Cook Morels
Let’s get started!
The Morel Mushroom Picking Season
Morels (Morchella esculenta) have a short picking season, they usually fruit early in the spring. In the boreal forest, it can be a bit later from May to June.
Although keep in mind that microclimates in your area affect the fruiting season, for example, you could find them earlier or later than that.
Factors like rainfall and weather affect when morel mushrooms start to fruit. A good week of rain is always beneficial for any mushroom to spawn.
But the most considerable precursor to a good morel spawning season is a wildfire. A mid-summer wildfire will set the perfect conditions for an immense haul of morel mushrooms the following spring.
How to Identify Morel Mushrooms
Morel mushrooms have this brain-like appearance. Stems can be fairly thick and have a creamy white color up to the cap where the colors usually darken.
Morel caps have unique ridges that form a maze-like pattern, the caps will usually grow into a conical shape, but sometimes also spherical.
If you were to cut a morel into two pieces, you would see the inside is hollow.
The Difference Between True Morels & False Morels
If you observe closely, there are some clues to tell them apart:
- The true morel ridges have a kind of honeycomb pattern to them, while false morel ridges are smoother or vein-like.
- True morels have more of a conical or spherical shape, false morel shapes are irregular.
- False morels appear all season long, while true morels usually appear only during spring to early summer.
- When you cut open some species of false morel, they have a fleshy interior, this will never be the case for true morels.
Where Morel Mushrooms are Found
Morels can be found at the edge of forested areas growing near the base of ash, elm, aspen, and oak trees. Look for south-facing slopes during the spring as this is where they often grow. As the season progresses you will find them on north-facing slopes a bit deeper into the woods.
Rivers banks with well-drained sandy soils are also good spots. When you find a morel, slow down your pace because if there is one, then there is a great chance you will find more in the surroundings.
At the base of dead trees. Dying trees like elms or old apple orchards are great spots to search.
Keep in mind while looking that early-season morels are quite small, maybe acorn size but as the season progresses they can get quite large and with a noticeable yellow color.
What Morel Mushrooms Taste Like
When freshly picked and cooked, morels have a subtle earthy, woodsy, and nutty flavor.
The best part about morels is the texture, they really add a twist to dishes. Fresh morel mushrooms are much tastier than store-bought ones.
How to Store, Clean & Cook Morel Mushrooms
How to Store Freshly Picked Morels
Storing morel mushrooms correctly is important to keep them in good condition. You never want to store them in a sealed plastic bag or container.
The best option is a brown paper bag or a container with a clean towel over it. Doing this will ensure you control the moisture and prevent any molds from growing.
Place in a dark, cool place until ready to cook.
How to Clean Morels
Before you can eat them, you need to clean the mushrooms. As a general rule of thumb, not just with morels but any other mushroom, you don’t want to run water on them.
If you take your mushrooms to the sink and clean them in running water, they will absorb water and puff up. The true flavor of the morel will be much milder.
What you want to do is take a clean hand cloth and gently rub off any dirt from the morels. A clean little brush is also handy to get into the cracks. That’s really all you need to do, they will cook much better if they’re not wet.
How to Cook Morels
Where I work, we live in camps in the northern boreal forests. This far away from civilization means we have to cook all our food ourselves. But thankfully, there are some wonderful cooks that work with us, and they’ve taught me the secrets to cooking morels to perfection.
Here’s what you want to do:
- Step 1: Heat up some oil in a pan until it’s quite hot, but not so hot that it smokes (canola or olive oil)
- Step 2: Place the sliced mushrooms in the pan and let them fry until they get golden, flip on other side.
- Step 3: When this is done, add in some chopped shallots and toss.
- Step 4: Finally, deglaze the pan with white wine and lower the heat, simmer for a bit.
- Step 5: That’s it! By now it should smell delicious, final touch is to add a bit of butter with salt + pepper. Enjoy!
That’s it! That should have covered everything you need to know to find morels yourself to enjoy these wonderful mushrooms.
But if you have additional questions, write them down below and I will do my best to answer!
Interested in medicinal plants? Learn about medicinal plants you can forage in our guide.