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Mushroom Hunting: On The Prowl For Elusive Morel Mushrooms

As morel hunting season approaches, Earth Eats talks with expert Ron Kerner about how to hunt, identify and prepare morel mushrooms

  • a box of morel mushrooms

    Image 1 of 2

    Photo: Ron Kerner

    Morel mushrooms look a bit like natural sponges and can be different colors -- black, gray, yellow -- and also different sizes.

  • a patch of morel mushroom growing under a tree

    Image 2 of 2

    Photo: Ron Kerner

    Morels like to grow in damp ground and are often found near the base of trees in dense forests.

Morel mushrooms, sometimes also called sponge mushrooms because they look a bit like a natural sponge, can be different colors — black, gray, yellow — and also different sizes. They’re very highly sought after among mushroom hunters and very highly priced for the rest of us — $15-17 per pound or more.

Ron Kerner is an avid mushroom hunter who has been hunting in southern Indiana for 20 years and he runs the website Indiana Mushrooms. He says the desirability of morels is largely a question of supply and demand.

Not only are they hard to find, they only come up for about a month every year – mid-April to mid-May. “You won’t find one in July,” Kerner says. ”They like it to be wet. We need some rain and warmer nights.”

Can You Keep A Secret?

Morels sometimes grow at the base of trees, or even, some say, by railroad tracks. Kerner says that as many people as you talk to you, you’ll find as many different suggestions as to where these elusive mushrooms can be found.

“Everybody has their own little secrets,” he says “some people say ash trees are good to look under, some say elm trees. The list of trees goes on and on. In my experience, if you get out in the woods and put your head down and look around during the spring — If you stay out there long enough, you’re likely to come across some.”

And even if you ask a mushroom hunter where they like to go, good luck getting an answer out of them. “That’s something people really keep closely guarded. You’d be hard-pressed to get someone to share their morel spot with you,” Kerner explains.

Although he did tell us that, in Indiana, state parks and forests are two places where you can hunt. “It’s just a matter of getting out into the woods and putting your head down and looking,” he said.

If you get lucky and find some morels, it’s time to bring them home and cook them up. “Morels have a somewhat nutty kind of flavor,” Kerner says. His day job is as a chef, so he told us that one common way to prepare morels is to dip them in a milk or an egg wash, cover them in cracker crumbs or flour and then fry the coated mushrooms in a little bit of oil or butter until they’re nice and crispy.

Other Edible Mushrooms

If you can’t find the elusive morels, Kerner says, there are a number of other edible mushrooms you can gather in southern Indiana. “A lot of people around here just know about the morels,” he explains, “but there are several other mushrooms that grow around here that are really good.”

Like oyster mushrooms, Kerner tells us. “[Oyster mushrooms] grow on logs and don’t have much of a stem.” He says oyster mushrooms are excellent for grilling.

oyster mushrooms on a tree trunk

Photo: Ron Kerner

Oyster mushrooms are another type of wild mushroom that can be found in the springtime in Indiana.

If you’re new to mushroom hunting, Kerner cautions that you should find someone who can help you identify your mushrooms before you try to eat them. Either that or “get a mushroom field guide,” he says. “If you’re hunting for the table, you definitely have to know what you’re doing because there are some poisonous varieties out there.”

More On Foraging (from Earth Eats)

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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