THE FOODIE FILES: Standing on morel ground

By on April 28, 2015

Practical tips on procuring your favorite fungus

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Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Is it too early to be thinking about morel mushrooms? I think not. All we need is a nice wet spring with a little sunshine and a lot of luck. But before you charge into the woods in a frenzy of foraging, I’d like to set a few things straight.

There are rules of conduct when hunting morels. These rules are a largely unwritten code that most foragers learn by hanging out with more seasoned foragers. I probably broke a few of these rules back in the day when I was learning to forage, about 20 years ago. Believe me, there are repercussions.

Mushroom hunting etiquette is serious business, people. So, just for you newbies, I’ve taken a crack at writing down the unwritten rules. Take them to heart and you will be welcomed into the morel hunting community with open arms. Ignore them and you will surely nettle enough foragers to invoke bad hunting karma.

Don’t ask, don’t tell. If you ask a morel hunter to tell you where he or she finds mushrooms, don’t expect a straight answer. It can take years to find a great morel spot and foragers who have put in the due diligence deserve to keep those honey holes to themselves. They aren’t being rude, but you will be if you ask them directly. It’s far better to ask more general questions about morel habitat and figure out how to find your own secret patch.

If a morel hunter takes you to his or her site, don’t tell other people about it or go there without them. They are letting you in on a secret, and revealing that secret to others is considered betrayal.

If you come upon another mushroom hunter in the woods, give him or her a wide berth. You wouldn’t infringe on another fisherman’s section of river, right? Get far enough away from him that you can’t see if he is finding mushrooms.

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Respect private land. Plenty of residents sit on prime morel hunting ground but could care less about foraging for themselves. It’s OK to hunt on their property if you have permission. You do have to ask. If they are agreeable, offer to share the morels with them or drop off a token of your appreciation in the form of a nice bottle of wine. Sneaking around on private land without permission is definitely bad etiquette.

If you come to a cluster of morels (yippee!), pinch the mushrooms off just above the base of the stem and leave the root system intact. Don’t wipe out an entire patch; a good rule of thumb is to leave one-third of the morels intact so they will continue to disperse their spores. And don’t trample the wildflowers all around. The site should look exactly like you found it, albeit with fewer morels.

Share. Hyperseasonal and highly perishable, morels are meant to be shared. Morel hunters may be a secretive lot, but once their larders are full for the season, they are known to be extremely generous. If you are sitting on a pile of morels, give some away to friends and neighbors, especially if they are too busy to forage.

If you are the recipient of a gift of morels, thank your mushroom hunting friend (and know that he or she really likes you) but don’t broadcast your good fortune. Your friend may not want to draw attention to him or herself as someone who hauled in morels. He or she may not want to advertise the fact that morels are going off. In other words, thank them in person, not on Facebook.

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To post or not to post? Mushroom hunters are often torn between keeping their finds secret and boasting about their successes by posting pictures all over the internet. Do you post? It depends. At the beginning of the morel season, most foragers will not post photos on Facebook or Instagram that could spur a frenzy of hunting. After all, there is only a finite amount of morel hunting ground. Once the season is winding down, however, you’ll see lots of morel pictures on social media as people proudly display their bounty and their best morel dishes. The bottom line: if you’re seeing a lot of posting, the season is probably over.

Development has definitely put a squeeze on the morel habitat in Jackson Hole. When I first moved to Jackson, there were a lot more morels and fewer people foraging. Now that morel hunting is a sport that’s almost as popular as cycling in the spring, following basic etiquette is even more important.

Good luck hunting, friends, and please send me pictures of your morels. (I promise not to share.)

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About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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