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Morel Madness

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

There are two white morels in the photo. Can you find them?

It's MOREL TIME. Yes, I am shouting. I love MOREL TIME. I will say that, with the weather going from Februaryine conditions to Augustine in the space of 24 hours, it's a little tough on the morels. Bill and I went out twice a day, checking our honeyspots, looking, looking, finding nothing. And then I was riding the lawnmower, just pootling along, when I saw three wrinkled beings lined up right along our driveway. AGGH! Morels.

Here I am in the thrill of discovery. The tattoo on my arm is temporary. It is a muscle car with flames shooting out its butt, which I applied to my skin as inspiration, because I needed to empty the greenhouse and plant the vegetable garden in three days. Which I did. As you can tell from my stunning farmer by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

Not only did I empty the greenhouse, but I potted five large hanging baskets and nine planters, dug out and distributed reechy compost to all my garden beds, weeded several beds, rototilled the garden, planted the beans, glads, and tuberoses, and mowed the lawn. It was a heck of a weekend. Pretty much perfect by Zick standards, except that Bill wasn't here to share the joy.

On Saturday afternoon, when the lawn was mowed, I called to Phoebe to come join me in a search for more morels. We decided to hit new ground, near where I'd found the trio of monsters pictured above.

Phoebe finds her first one. The twig across her face doesn't hide her excitement.
At this point I should say that we found two different species of morels. The white, or yellow morel Morchella esculenta is the most highly prized for its taste and texture. The two fabulously wrinkled, paler specimens at the top are white morels. They look more like a proper mushroom to me.

All the rest with the smaller brown caps are half-free morels, Morchella semilibera. They're perfectly good to eat and taste wonderful, but they don't hold up quite as well to cooking as does M. esculenta, being sort of gauzy and less substantial in texture. They're called half-free morels because the cap is attached to the stem halfway up, leaving the cap hanging down over the stem for half its length. White morels' caps are attached to the stem at the base. Both edible species have a hollow stem, which is the diagnostic characteristic that tells you they are safe to eat. If you find a morel that, on cross section, has a stem filled with white fuzzy hyphae, you've probably got Verpa bohemica, the False Morel, which you DO NOT want to eat.

Here is the yummy half-free morel, with its hollow stem, and cap connected halfway up. The stem has white pimples on the inside, but not cottony fibers:

And here is Verpa bohemica, the False Morel, with its stem full of white cottony hyphae, its cap hanging free and attached only at the very top, and its nasty poisonousness. Don't eat this one.

These photos lifted from Northern Country Morels, a wonderful web site full of wisdom and warnings.

Remember: There are old mushroom hunters, and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.

One of the half-free morel's common names is "peckerhead," and so are they called on Indigo Hill.
Phoebe gave me permission to use this picture of her holding a large half-free morel. Yes, she is her mother's daughter (and her father's daughter) through and through. Which is to say, irreverant and pleasantly evil, even at twelve. Heck, she was that way at three.

Farther out our orchard, near the rotting apple stumps, we found a sweet spot full of delicioius white morels.

A tiger swallowtail, meet companion to the morel hunter. Look for them when the tigers are first flying in spring, when the fiddleheads push up from the earth.

Thanks for coming morel hunting with by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

We love you all, but this is about as close as you're going to get to our happy hunting grounds. Morels bring out the bad, possessive and evil in us.


YUM. The only morel I've tasted was years ago when one inexplicably appeared in our suburban front yard. It was amazing. To my disappointment, I haven't found any in the woods where I'm doing research this spring, though the tree guys working along the road who see me coming and going seem convinced I must be there to hunt mushrooms.

Good lord, don't you sleep woman?? Actually, that sounds like a perfectly great weekend to me, too. Thanks for the great morel info - my husband heard you on NPR talking about morel hunting. He was impressed. I think his exact words were something along the lines of, "That woman you stalk who wrote this book (pointing to Letters From Eden) was on NPR today. Pretty cool!"

Hunting...stalking...whatever. Sadly I'm not a huge fan of eating mushrooms, but I do love to look at them!

I love that Phoebe takes after her parents and that everyone is 'cool' with a little mushroom humor in the family.

So, are you saying here that Phoebe is pleasantly evil ... and you're just plain evil?

Hi Julie,

Does your new site have an RSS feed? I haven't found it yet. When I add the URL, I get a message, "There is a problem with the database. Please try again later."

Perhaps it's a problem with Bloglines. . .

I continue to appreciate your thoughts as expressed both in your blogs and on NPR. Thanks for sharing.

Helen Ostermiller
northeastern Ohio

Waaaaaaaaaaaahhhh! I've looked and looked for morels, and turned up bupkiss. The only time I happened upon morels was about ten years ago. I was walking up a local road that cuts through some woods when a funny-looking collection of dog doos caught my eye -- because they were morels. So I picked 'em, took 'em home, looked 'em up, cooked 'em up, and et 'em up. Never have bread, butter, and fungi (washed down with red wine) tasted so good.

I'm guess I'm just gonna have to be content with having hit the ramp jackpot. Don't you just love foraged food? If I could stumble across a nice shad and a stand of asparagus, I'd have it made

I'm with Jen in are one busy busy person! and when, or if, spring decides to come and visit the Ottawa Valley, we'll be looking for morels, as I know they grow here too -along with the swallowtails and old apple orchards...just later. Great blog! Thanks

My favourite mushroom saying is, "Every mushroom is edible, but some of them only once."

Boy, I wish I could be as productive as you on the weekends! Even if it's all a facade, it's an incredibly convincing one.

And so, next we want to see how you cooked those bad boys up! :c) Sounds yummy!

Cognac and cream, cognac and cream.....sighhhhhh.

The only morels I can find is hideously expensive packs of dust in the supermarket.

Love the pleasantly evil Phoebe!

Not morel related, but just a note to say that yesterday I listened (again) to your reading of your Sandhill Crane essay on the "This Birding Life" podcast and was, as I always am whenever I hear one of your readings or presentations, deeply moved and inspired to much contemplation. Thanks and keep doing what you do.

It looks so nice there.....I'm guessing SE Minnesota is meteorologically about 3 weeks behind SE Ohio. Just yesterday I saw my first rose-breasted grosbeak of this year, but no morels until probably around Mother's Day this year.

Go Phoebe!

Hi Julie,

Sorry to hijack these comments but I'm desparate. I have 2 bluebird couples fighting over one nest box. My box has been occupied the last 2 years by one BB couple; now I have another on the scene and I can't stand to see the Misters in the grass tussling. There is another nest box (not a true BB box) about 100 feet from this one; wouldn't one couple love to live in that? Couple One has a nest well underway...

To top it off, I am sick and can't get out to buy another box. If I can't get another box hung for awhile (few days or a week), will the other couple move on or will they kill each other?

kharndt at

Grateful for any advice...


It's wonderful you're teaching your Darling Child foraging skills, she'll never go hungry in the wild. The furthest my own mom got in teaching us those skills were the berries, and greens, like Poke Salat, Dock, and Dandelion.
She'd learned to gather those up and down country roads while baby sitting her younger siblings in the shade of cotton wagons.

Nice Blog! Phoebe is a great name... I should know... Im Phoebe too... glad there is another Phoebe out there with a garden enthusiast mother! :)

Posted by Phoebe July 9, 2013 at 7:12 AM
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