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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mushroom Hunting

I got a note from my Aunt Susie that they had tried some early mushroom hunting, but didn't have much luck. They plan to try again this weekend, and hope to find enough for a meal. I wrote the following note a couple of years ago about when we "kids" used to go mushroom hunting. It's a bit long, but I hope you enjoy it.

Here’s the story of how we learned to hunt for mushrooms…

Spring meant a trip to a place called “Bob’s Farm” to hunt for mushrooms. Bob’s Farm was a few acres of farmland and a wood lot located east of Rocklane, Indiana owned by a neighbor down the street. When the weather would start to warm up, well before it got too hot, Dad would call Bob and ask if we could go out to his farm to hunt for mushrooms.

We would all pile into the car for the trip to the farm, each one of us armed with the main essential piece of equipment for hunting mushrooms, a paper bag. We drove out to a place called Rocklane. Rocklane was mostly a white church at a crossroads in the country. There we would turn south and head down the road for a few more miles. Soon we would see off in the distance a stand of trees, which we knew of as “Bob’s Farm”. Dad would pull into the dirt lane and drive back toward the woods. The amount of rain that spring would dictate how far back we could drive down the lane. Some years, we didn’t get much further than just pulling off the road. Other years, we were able to go pretty far back to the corner of the woods.

Once we arrived, our first order of business was to find the other essential piece of mushroom hunting equipment, a good stick which could be used to poke around the ground and move the leaves and other debris aside as we conducted our search. Then we would split up into pairs and begin our walk through the woods, carefully watching where we stepped. No one wanted to walk right over a mushroom and have someone behind them spot it! We swung our sticks back and forth along the ground as we walked, moving decaying leaves out of the way, looking for the mushrooms. Since the ground was still brown with fallen leaves, and so were the mushrooms, we didn’t often find them. We looked in places Dad said they might be found. Maybe they would be hidden under a stand of may apples, whose leaves shaded the ground like umbrellas. Perhaps we would find them near a fallen log or at the base of a certain type of tree.

Then someone would cry out “I found one” and we would all head in their direction. Dad would inspect the finding and if it was a morel mushroom, we would carefully pick it and place it in a bag. That spot then became a place where mushrooms were likely to be found, so we would fan out from there and continue our search. At the end of the hunt, we checked our bags to see what we had. Some years, we wouldn’t find any mushrooms, and might come back from the hunt with only a few wild violets we dug for our own yard. Or we would spend more time knocking over ’puff balls’ than we would spend hunting mushrooms, fascinated by the cloud of spores they released. Other years, we would return home triumphant with a small portion of morel mushrooms. Once we tried to carefully dig around a location where we had found a mushroom, and transplant it to our own back yard, back in the corner under the beech tree, in hopes that we would start our own patch of mushrooms. But the next spring, no mushrooms came up.

As soon as we came home, Dad carefully cleaned the mushrooms we found, and after coating them with a little egg and rolling them in flour, fried them up in some butter or margarine. Food for the Hoosier soul! We all tried them, though Dad didn’t want us to eat them if we didn’t like them. That would leave more for him. Then later he would call Grandpa and Grandma and find out if any of his brothers or sister had been mushroom hunting. Some of them were quite good at finding mushrooms, but wouldn’t reveal where they found them. A good mushroom hunter will not readily reveal where they found their biggest and best morel mushrooms, for fear that others would get there first the next year. One year it was reported that Dad’s brother Darrell found dozens and dozens of mushrooms, which he fried up and ate in one sitting. Such a stomachache he had afterwards!

Here are some helpful hints for hunting morel mushrooms.

Make sure you take along a paper bag and a good poking stick. You want to have a big bag so it looks like you are expecting to find a lot of mushrooms.

Choose a day when the weather is starting to consistently warm up, but before it gets too hot. Perhaps sometime in April, when you see violets starting to bloom or find a stand of may apples in the woods in full leaf, but before too much has sprouted in the woods. (It may take years to figure out the optimal time to hunt for mushrooms!)

Walk carefully through the woods, moving aside dead leaves with your stick as you go, always looking for the sponge shaped mushrooms.

When you find a mushroom, if it is of good size, carefully pick it and place it in your bag. Continue until you have a bag full or tire out with few or no mushrooms (there is no guarantee of finding any mushrooms on your first hunt or any hunt after that).

If you find a good stand of mushrooms, take just a few and keep the site a secret. You don’t want to tell others about the site and then return the next year to the same spot only to find out that someone beat you to it.

When the hunt is over, carefully clean the mushrooms by soaking in cold water, draining and re-soaking the mushrooms several times until the water comes out clean.

Heat up some butter or margarine in a small frying pan, dip the mushrooms in beaten egg and then coat with flour or cracker crumbs and carefully place in the frying pan. Turn mushrooms several times so they fry evenly on all sides. Remove the fried mushrooms, drain excess butter by placing on several layers of paper towels, then eat and enjoy.

Not all mushrooms are edible, and many wild mushrooms are quite poisonous, even deadly. Don’t eat any mushrooms that you aren’t sure are morel mushrooms. The good news is that morel mushrooms have a unique shape, like a piece of sponge, and there are no deadly mushrooms that look like them. (See picture on My Garden Pictures)

Happy Hunting!

3 comments:

Sherry said...

That brings back soo many memories. I wish there were somewhere we could go mushroom hunting now and take the next generation to pass along this tradition

patsy said...

alway seemed the mushroom was hard to find, but if you could spot one more would be near.

next door neighbor said...

I love mushrooms - any kind! When I cook them though I skip the eggs and flour coating. It covers up the taste of the mushrooms too much and makes them too heavy and greasy. I like them just lightly browned in a small amount of light margarine. I have no idea of where to mushroom hunt so I guess I'll have to stick to the regular ones in the store.