Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Great Morel Mushroom Hunt

You might remember a couple of posts ago I was trying to figure out if the mushrooms on my lawn were safe to eat.
I contacted the Utah Mushroom Society and got an identification of the mushrooms (the mushrooms were poisonous...) and then learned that the UMS was planning on going on a mushroom hunting field trip on June 4th.

I saved the date on my calendar immediately.
Set the alarm last up and prepared for a day hunting mushrooms in the wild.
Jumped in my car at 8:59 AM, and floored it to get to the group meeting site at 9:00 sharp.
(Good thing the meeting point was at the park and ride lot two blocks from my house....)

Now I was thinking the group would be five, six, maybe seven folks, dressed in ball caps and carrying guidebooks and such. 

I wasn't sure I would be able to identify them in the park and ride lot.

Would you believe there were 35+ people who were all set to go mushroom hunting this morning?
At 9:05 we were getting the low down on the day's activities.
We were going to go morel hunting at....
(Can you guess?)
Yes, the very same Mill Creek Canyon that is less than 5 minutes from my house.
The one that I have photographed in fall and winter, while snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
That Mill Creek Canyon!

We were instructed to drive up to the Terraces.  I had often taken pictures at that turn off in the canyon, but hadn't realized that the road leads up and up and up into the hills.
Once several cars had arrived, the mushroom hunters took to the trails carrying their mushroom hunting baskets.
Or in my case, two paper bags (one for eating mushrooms, one for poison mushrooms)
One girl didn't think to bring a basket or a bag; she improvised by using her ball cap instead.

The group trudged along a muddy trail just above Mill Creek.  I noticed the interesting orange colored fungus and flagged one of the more seasoned members to ask what it was called.
Thankfully the lady with the dog in the first picture was a newbie like me, and was also interested in learning about this orange colored thing.
 I didn't feel too bad that I had asked when the seasoned mushroom hunter told us that it was called a Snowbank Orange Peel, and that they were very common in the area.
That is what is so fun about blissful ignorance: I thought the little fungus was just cool.

Another member opened her guidebook and showed us the page about the Snowbank Orange Peel Fungus.
According to the guide book, seeing a Snowbank Orange Peel Fungus is a sure sign that spring is here!

I should add here that the seasoned mushroom hunters reeled off the Latin names of each mushroom we found during the day.  They sure sounded smart.  I am happy for now just knowing the common name!

Soon we newbies were coached on mushroom hunting protocol.
You spade up a mushroom with a bit of dirt, in order to have environmental information about the species.
(I say: First you take a picture of the mushroom, then you dig it up.)
The fact that a mushroom has hair like roots tells you that the mushroom is poisonous. 
It may be kept to be studied, but should not touch any mushroom that are being gathered for eating.
Whew!  Glad I just happened to grab two paper bags to take with me.

So I am still enchanted with the Snowbank Orange Peel Fungus.  I am told there is another fungus that looks just like it, but it has three white egg shape forms inside the cup.  How cute would that be?  Something to be on the lookout for.

And then it HAPPENED!
A teenager with the group called out: "Dad, there are morels down here!"
With that news, several of us left to skid down below the path we were walking, hustling to get to where the morel was found.
Why I hurried I have no idea. It isn't like a mushroom is going to run away or anything.
Isn't it a beauty?

The more I looked, the more I saw.
And let me tell is not easy to see morels in the wild. They totally blend into the pine needle strewn environment.
As I would kneel down to harvest one, I would then notice another and another.
It was very easy to accidentally step on one while attempting to harvest another.

Of course I was also wild flower spotting.

And another morel.
The teen (Alex) mentioned that a pound of dried morels sell for about $200.  His dad said no, $250.
But then again, a dried morel weighs almost nothing so that weigh represents an awful lot of morels.

Then there were the LBM: :Little Brown Mushrooms.
The experts were given a chance to have a look at those things.
I was told that something like 5% of mushrooms are eatable and taste good, 5% are deadly, and the rest either aren't tasty enough to bother with or if eaten would make you wish you could die.
An unidentified LBM is something to study, not to eat.

There was plenty of interesting things to look at when not spotting mushrooms.
I had never seen a pine cone quite like this one before.

I really wanted to know about any and all fungi that I encountered.

Experts says: Don't eat.
The experts just like finding interesting mushrooms, being able to eat them is not the prime motivator for a mushroom hunting trip.  I totally understand that, but if it could be eaten, I would want to know.
The expert get a much bigger thrill out of being able to correctly identify each mushroom that they encounter.

Oh oh...roots again.

Just love those orange peel fungi!

Aaaaggghhhhh!   Too many fun activities all in one day.

Seriously...doesn't this look exactly like someone peeled and orange and walked away?

The expert assessing more mushrooms.

Morels proudly displayed by one successful hunter.

Then there was this stumper.
Our expert went: "What in the world...?"
Apparently there are very few blue mushrooms.

The experts eventually assigned a nice sounding Latin name to the fungus.
I remember hearings something like "blue stain.." but missed the rest.
Darn it!

Another guy had harvested these gigantic fungi.
They were each about the size of a large soft ball. 
How could I have missed seeing something that looked like this?

The experts said they were Snowbank False Morels.
Several members mentioned that False Morels are even tastier than regular morels.
I will sure be on the look out for one of these the next time I am skulking around the woods in Mill Creek Canyon.

The group had sort of re-gathered in a picnic site around noon and everyone was putting out their "finds" for inspection.

The discussions were really interesting to listen to....what had been found, how could you tell what something was, how to cook it...

Various snack items were being munched and one woman had brought chocolate mushrooms too share.
They were absolutely delicious!

I admired the chocolate mushroom lady's hair pin.

Two dogs had been on the hunt with us. This dog was now feverishly digging by the picnic table.
What was he smelling?
Was it a truffle?
(We never did find out although his owner said the dog sometimes digs up voles.)

Most of the "show and tell" mushrooms were immediately sliced in half length-wise.
I learned that "safe" morels are hollow, while a dangerous type is filled with a cotton like substance.
Mushrooms were examined with jeweler loops; I just zoomed in with my camera to get a better look since I had no idea what I should be looking for anyway.

I did learn that proper mushroom identification includes spore examination.
The photo above is the inside of the morel cap.
It sparkled in the sunshine as if it had been finely misted with glitter.

Another thing to look for is gills, like this mushroom has.

I enjoyed taking close ups of the morel.  I was told there is a non-safe morel that has folds like a curtain instead of the kind of structure seen in my photo above.
(I shared my close up pictures with my oncology back ground nurse daughter Laura.
She said the pictures looked like cancer pictures to her.  Interesting.)

A close up cross section of a huge puff ball mushroom.
Looks like granite or marble doesn't it?

A bolete to eat.
It had a very fat stem that got narrower at the top.
Wish I had spotted one of those to pick.

Shortly after noon I drove the five minutes back to home, eager to show off my harvest to Bernie.

That's a pretty good sized mushroom don't you think?

They needed to be carefully rinsed as soil can linger in the cap's many pockets.
I sliced each one open length wise just to be sure they were hollow and not cottony filled.

The suggested recipe: a bit of olive oil, a bit of soy sauce.  Like about a tablespoon of each.
A dash of garlic salt and sea salt.
Sautee until they become a bit translucent.
Oh delicious! Slightly chewier than the simpler store bought mushrooms.
Someone in the group told me he used to take a five gallon bucket and fill it to the brim with morels from the Unitas mountains.
He didn't say exactly where this harvest happened.
I did learn that morels are a springtime/early summer mushroom, at least here in Utah.
Guess what I will be doing in my spare time during the next few weeks.
Oh yeah...morel hunting, here I come!

Oh...and I saw this sweet little white violet shaped flower too.


Vee said...

That was quite the lesson. I still think you're brave. Having a little trouble with focus, too. Mushrooms, flowers, mushrooms, flowers, mushrooms, fungus, flowers. Ha! Did you share the harvest with Bernie?

ellen b. said...

What fun! Is that first wildflower a fritillaria?
I did tell you that our son Dan has been hunting morels...
He said they were delicious, too.

Sara at Come Away With Me said...

Hi Jill, this was very interesting! I saw so many shapes I've never seen before. So...there is a mushroom at this very moment in my back yard shaped like a flying saucer from those old black and white movies....about 4 inches across and 2 inches tall. I'm not going to eat it however.

Anonymous said...

What a fun day you had, and with tasty rewards. We enjoyed reading about you 'mushroom experience'. Love, mom and dad S.

Vicki said...

What a fun and educational outing! I think I could be easily overwhelmed by all the other little "distractions" in the woods, too! Love the photos, Jill!

Lovella ♥ said...

Jill, That is just amazing. I had no idea that there was such simple clues like. .hair on the roots. I thought you were kidding about the orange peel fungi ..thinking it really was orange peel.
I bet they were delicious.

Judy ~ My Front Porch said...

I think hunting with a camera would be good enough for me...never mind the basket for the picking! Sounds like an interesting adventure.