All you need to know about morels
Nothing good ever stays simple. When we were roaming up and down La Harpe Crik, my cousin Lloyd and I were among the few mushroom hunters. Casual seekers strolled up and down the TP&W railroad tracks looking for a dead elm with the bark slipping off. Others drove slow down dirt roads hoping to spot easy pickin’s. Sometimes, Dad would stop the corn planter along the edge of a timber, and come back with his hat full of grays.
For Lloyd and me, there never was any competition for our favorite spots because it took hard walking to get there. When the leaves on a hedge tree were the size of a mouse’s ear, we’d wade across the crick, go up through the ‘hollers’ and generally come back with enough morels in an onion sack for my mom to fry up for supper. Mushrooms were a springtime treat that was free. You either found them or you didn’t. Nobody we knew spend days at a time scouring the timbers, beating the grass with walking sticks, and hollering out every time they spotted a toadstool.
Then, it got complicated. Morels became gourmet delights. Chefs started putting them in quiches. Modern morel hunters can now choose from different brands of active wear. Today, everything you ever wanted to know about morels is available online. Google ‘morel mushrooms’ and you will get 1.3 million hits. You can spend days examining photos, reading up on soil temperature, and learning how to properly pinch one off if you see it.
You will find out everything but the places they are popping up. That information you will have to collect on your own. Successful morel hunters don’t have a problem with posting the pictures of their prodigious finds. Some of those mounds of morels might even be real. However, getting the straight dope as to even what township those morels were found is a whole different critter.
In this area we are fortunate to have several thousand acres of public land nearby. After 1 p.m. during turkey season, Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area is wide open to morel hunters. Lace up your genuine morel hiking boots. The areas within half a mile of a parking area have been gone over with fine-toothed comb.
I know a couple of surefire places in that general area to find morels. Places where you are guaranteed to come home with mushrooms in the sack with a minimum of effort and no bug bites. And, you don’t have to shove bamboo shoots under my fingernails to find out. Just check out the watering holes along the Illinois River. If anybody has found more morels than they can digest, they will be for sale in those places. At first glance, a pound of morels may seem to be a budget buster. But if you total up all the time, effort, fuel and equipment you could spend finding them on your own, it could turn out to be a bargain.