The Elusive Morel Mushroom – Denizen of the Ozark Woods

Born in the light of the moon and raised in the deep hollers of the backwoods, these elusive creatures are the prized game of many hungry Ozarkians. But step lightly as you enter the woods in search of these fungi, those who claim to simply “pick” Morels mushrooms are naive.  These fungi we chase will not just sit there and wait for you.  Although lacking the traditional limbs of the bi-pedal human, these crafty mushrooms can dart under the leaves and be gone in a split second.  Make no mistake, this is a hunt.

Although you may stumble across a lone Morel mushroom occasionally, most mushroom hunters tend to look for mushrooms during the annual Spring migration. This is when they are most plentiful and at times can even be found in small herds. Many Ozark scholars believe this is the time of year when Morels move to better feeding grounds.  Not for themselves, but for their livestock.  A little known fact is that Morels are actually ancient tick farmers, attested by the fact that ticks and Morels are always found together.

Big Yellow Morel Mushroom

Big Yellow Morel Mushroom (photo courtesy of D. Dennis)

The Morel mushroom comes in many forms, little blacks, big yellows and grays, but no matter the size or color, these mushroom are all masters of camouflage. Morels can blend perfectly into the background or disguise themselves as walnut shells, rocks, sycamore balls, or sometimes just a leaf.  I personally have experienced their ability to become invisible.

Just last year I was moving towards a “Big Yellow” that had nestled up under a May apple. Not wanting to spook the big fella, I was stealthily moving towards him nice and easy. I was just about to reach out and grab him by the stump when, a movement to my right distracted me, as another Morel darted past in the edge of my peripheral vision.  I turned my head only momentarily, but in that quick second I was too late.  I lost them in the leaves, both mushrooms had vanished.

Nice mess of mushrooms

Nice mess of Morel mushrooms (photo courtesy of D. Dennis)

But not to worry; I did not go hungry that day. While crossing a small creek, I came up unaware on a group of Morels shading themselves under the boughs of a Multi-Flora Rose.  Before they could scatter, I jumped in and snatched them up.  With my Wal-Mart bag now full of Morels, I headed home with my prize.  I filleted enough for a quick meal, breaded them and popped them into the hot grease.  Sizzling, I knew they were finished as each caramel brown piece floated to the top of the hot oil.

Wading in unprepared into a group of wild Morels that way, I did suffer several ticks bites and some blood loss from the Multi-Flora Rose. But in the end I was rewarded with Morel meat.  As I crunch on each bite and taste the crispy little flavor explosion, I know I will go again and hunt.  Next Spring I will be there scouring the woods because it is in my blood to chase, to hunt and to eat these elusive Morels.

The Ozark History Buff

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