A favorite quarry of amateur mycologists is the morel of our hardwood forests. You might think that a successful hunt for the earthy, nutty and easy-to-identify morel would begin with querying a mushroom hunter about where to find them. Don’t bother asking. Mushroom hunters never share their favorite spots.
All over the continent, and here in New Canaan, springtime is morel time for mushroom aficionados. In early spring, south-facing slopes with blow-downs and old-growth elms, ash trees and sycamores are most likely to harbor morels among the rotting logs and leaves. Later, the white morel prefers a north slope. But this elusive delicacy will sprout up in unexpected places, and yet be totally absent in a habitat that seems to be ideal (look near dead and decaying trees). That makes for a hunt that is rewarding when you find only a few morels. Even if there are none at all, you’ve been out in the woods observing birds and spring wildflowers like False Solomon’s Seal and wild geranium.
Well-drained, sandy soils make good hunting spots, and as the weather warms to the high 60s in the day and consistently about 40 at night, the time is right.
Morels are so distinctive in appearance that you can be confident in picking, cooking and
eating them—that is, if you’re lucky enough to find a handful to take home in the first place. There’s no other mushroom that has the elongated spongy cap that distinguishes the morel.
Like truffles, morels come in both black and white varieties. The black morel appears the earliest, and is just as desirable as the later-sprouting white morel. Unlike truffles, you don’t use a pig or trained dog to sniff them out—to find morels you have to survey the forest floor at your feet, very closely and patiently. Some mushroom hunters advocate a Groucho Marx kind of crouching walk that gets them close to the ground, as uncomfortable as that sounds.
NCLT’s Watson-Symington woodlands is a hilly habitat with marked trails off Wellesley Drive. Go on your own morel hunt while traversing one of New Canaan’s Land Trust properties. NCLT frowns upon visitors digging up wildflowers, but if you find a morel on your walk, go ahead and pick it. There’s no root system and you’ll spread microscopic spores by the thousands on your way out by gently holding the mushroom in your hand.
And let us know about your find—if you’re so inclined! Even if you don’t want to share your favorite spot, at lease share a photo to show off your quarry. Enjoy the spring, and all of its bounty!