Collecting Wild Mushrooms, part 1 (Morels)

This guest post is  by Bill Bakaitis, founder of the Mid-Hudson Mycological Association, consultant to the New York and New England Poison Control networks, wild mushroom guru for the Culinary Institute of America (and, full disclosure, my husband). Although collecting is over for this year, morel hunting is not. A big part of success next spring is learning to find their haunts now, as Bill describes in:

A Successful Strategy for Finding Morels

by Bill Bakaitis

As seasons go, 2008 was a pretty good one for Morels. I investigated only a small fraction of the potential collecting sites near my home and was able to pick a peck or so at each visit.

collecting basket, morels

A Peck of Morchella esculenta

Others had the same success. The best collector I know, Dennis Aita, wowed Coma members in May with his large flat of pristine fist to corncob sized esculenta collected only hours before the evening’s lecture.

As it happened, several digital images of collections circulated in emails and I soon received calls and questions from curious mushroomers. “Just how do you manage to find all of those Morels?” they wanted to know. “I have looked and looked and still come back empty handed.” Well, truth be told, if I had to answer in a word, it would be Luck: forced to add two others, they would be Preparation and Perseverance.

LUCK AND LOTS OF IT:

As they say in real estate, location is everything. I am fortunate to live in the Hudson Valley, where, within an hours drive, one can go from sea level to mountain peaks 4,000 feet high. Think about the potential in this season extending range. I have collected Verpa conica, Morchella semilibra and angusticeps in early April an hours drive to the south, and have concluded the spring season in June in the northern Catskills where both Morchella esculenta and Boletus edulis (Porcini) can come to the creel on the same day. Potentially, this represents a two months collecting season. Not bad for starters.

But we are also lucky for the geological diversity found in this region. The earth underfoot – ancient sedimentary deposits – have been modified by plate tectonics, scoured by repeated periods of glaciation and flooding, and built up over eons by a rich diversity of temperate vegetation. The primeval forests were eventually logged by foresters and tanners, cultivated by transplanted European agriculturists, protected by environmentally minded conservationists, and most recently subject to the repatriation of abandoned farms gone fallow. Such diversity adds to the luxury of a long and often bountiful season. That same diversity also allows for maneuvering within the vagaries of fickle weather. But that said, where does one start?

MORELS AND SOIL STRUCTURE:

Consider first the soil. Morels, they say favor sweet (slightly alkaline) soils; Soils friable with loam and lime are the best.

And yet, I remember that my earliest successes came from a neighbor’s farm where I found plenty of Morels in a swamp under Skunk Cabbage. Dennis Aita was flabbergasted. “Morels don’t grow there” he told me. And then I began to find them in clay mines. “They don’t grow there, either” He said, but proof, they say, is in the pudding, and there they were, and to this day, there they remain. Not in every season, but often enough to warrant a yearly look. This year, in fact, about a third of the Morels found by the Spring Class I conduct for the Culinary Institute of America were found under Skunk Cabbage.

morels grow with elm ( and sometimes skunk cabbage)

Skunk Cabbage and dying Elm may help refine the search

So why would that be? Here is an explanation that seems plausible to me:

Although there are dozens of types of clay most seem to be very alkaline. I used over a ton of blue Hudson Clay (from a freshly dug pit at a productive morel area) to build a French-Canadian style bread oven and learned about the alkalinity the hard way. My hands puckered, peeled and filled with sores while working with the wet clay “loaves” that were used to build the oven walls. (For the second oven, rubber gloves proved exquisitely effective and I have used them ever since while working with this and similar marine clay. Subsequent repair of cracks in the walls of the ovens require the potters trick: use of vinegar to soften and neutralize the alkalinity of clay.)

It has been explained to me that as clay moves from a dry to a wet state cations, such as Magnesium, and Calcium migrate outwards with the flow of water. Both of these are positively charged and therefore alter the pH of the surrounding soil. This happens most reliably in the springtime when paradoxically even acid rain can lead to a temporary “sweetening” of some soil.

Silts and clays hold water of course and form the liner of swamps and ponds, and even in the dry season Swamp Cabbage seems to be a good indicator of this silt/clay substrate. This plant, therefore, has good potential for directing a springtime Morel search – provided that you disregard the Skunk Cabbage growing in heavy waterlogged muck.

Consider too the association of silts and clays mentioned above with sedimentary deposits. A particularly good lesson can be seen in the anticlines and synclines formations of the road cuts along the Hudson River. The ones on Rt.199 near the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge are visited each semester by classes from many area colleges. They were formed when great tectonic plates pushed together and pulled apart again.

If you look carefully at these formations you can see how the various strata of sedimentary deposits record the area’s geology. Some layers are primarily shale, some limestone, and if you were to follow these layers along the road cut to where the edges of the layers naturally “surface” you will see how they form limestone ridges, often with fens, bogs, swamps and vernal pools.

limestone outcropping

Limestone strata often support good Morel habitat.

flowing limestone closeup

Vertical limestone outcropping “flowing” under influence of acid rain. A drop of Hydrochloric acid will cause limestone to fizz.

This is prime Morel habitat. Such habitats are to be found throughout the Mid-Hudson Valley, its Highlands, the Catskills, Shawangunks, and the nearby Berkshires.

In some of these areas the exposed limestone is obvious, on others it can easily be found by referring to industrial activity. Think cement, brick, marble, as well as agricultural limestone mining.

Years ago I was quite interested in wood carving, and in one book on carving technique, there was a reference to a place where a particularly fine limestone was mined. I obtained Geological and Topo Maps of the area and began to look for the mine. My exploration led me to lots of cobbles and gravel quarries from sites marked on the maps, but no marble mine. At one cobble site, a thin vein of sugary limestone could be seen still in situ. Circumnavigating the area on back roads I noticed evidence of an abandoned aerial tramway that went to an equally abandoned railroad siding. Aha! I thought, heavy mining for sure. Subsequent investigation finally revealed the mine and the now dilapidated houses that once housed the miners. The quarries were astounding: white, deep, and filled with water of the most beautiful blue. They reminded me of the flooded limestone mines in the movie “Cutters”. On underwater ledges were trucks, cranes and tractors of a 1930 and 40 vintage, abandoned as the miners suddenly struck a vein of water and the mine flooded.

This was a huge mine, but not on the Geological or Topographic maps. Puzzled, I began to question nearby residents and businesses. It turns out that the limestone/marble mined here was a source of Dolomite important for the War effort of the 1940’s and, with due regard for security, all references to it were expunged from official records. It wasn’t on the maps, but it was in the ground, and there were plenty of Morels to be found there. In fact, for years I would often collect a bushel or so from an adjacent, unposted, clay mine.

Interestingly, this was a different type of clay than the Hudson variety mentioned earlier. When I baked trial bricks from it they looked great but crumbled apart with a slight nudge. Not the stuff to make bread ovens from, unless, that is, you mix in a modest amount of cement, which was also available from the clay and gravel mine.

As I write this, spread out on a table before me is another geological map of this area. There are 15 underlying geological rock types on the map. The Dolomite mine is absent, but it sits quite clearly in one of the long ribbons of “Cambro-Ordovician Limestone” which wander across the map. Some go for more than 45 miles before plunging off its edge, undoubtedly to be picked up on the next section.

As I say, I am lucky to live near such areas, for nearly every ribbon I have investigated holds Morels.

MORELS AND INDICATOR TREES:

( for cautionary updates about safe collecting sites, see the second and third of  Bill’s toxicology posts on Dianna Smith’s Mycology blog. )

If you were to Google ‘clay soil’ you are likely to find gardening sites that advise the types of trees that are best suited for growing in such locations. The first one in a recent search I did lists: “Apple, Cottonwood, Ash, and Elm” among others. If you ask successful Morel hunters where they find their Morels they will tell you under “Apple, Cottonwood, Ash and Elm”.

apple ash and elm mean morels

This abandoned Apple Orchard being reclaimed by Ash and Elm has produced for over 15 years.

To be sure, you won’t find them under every tree, but here is a strategy that works for me.

Dying trees are best. Why? As I understand it, as a tree grows the soil under it becomes more acid due to a Phosphorus-Hydrogen ion exchange process. When the tree dies, a sudden reversal takes place, particularly in the root zone (rhizosphere) and the soil here experiences a micro area of sudden alkalinity.

With Elm the Morels will form an arc following the roots out, sometimes for few dozen yards. When you find one Morel, look for another then connect the dots. You will generally find a few more and sometimes will hit the jackpot. A dying Elm will generally produce for three years, the first year generally being the most productive. The second year will usually be so-so, and the third nearly barren.

Elm trees often die in a cluster as Dutch Elm Disease is spread from tree to tree not only by bark beetles (look under the flaking bark for their galleries) but also by underground root grafts. When you find an Elm that supports a flush of Morels, you will want to check out the others nearby in the years following, even though they are currently healthy. And the Elms don’t have to be big. Often 4″ to 6″ trees will support a nice crop of esculenta. But it is under trees a foot or more in diameter where you can fill a basket.

This three year cycle persists even if the tree is cut for firewood. One spring I took all the Morels I could stand simply by visiting the sites along a back country road where a woodcutter had felled the dead Elms. The sites were all well marked by his truck pulloff and the chips produced by the chain saw.

Before you find a productive stretch of Elms, be prepared to look under 50 to a hundred before you strike pay dirt.

The Mid-Hudson area of New York is famous for its Apple orchards. I don’t think I have ever visited an orchard in Ulster County – in season- without finding Morels. (But then again I confine my visits to orchards in areas which coincide with the conditions explained above.)

Not every tree, mind you, will produce, but somewhere within the orchard there are dying trees, trees with all the life gone except for one far-off limb where a few leaves and maybe a blossom or two hang on. That is where to look. Usually you will have to fight your way through wild roses, honeysuckle and poison ivy to find them, but they will be there.

thicket where morels are found

A Thicket in an overgrown Apple Orchard. You will have to cut yourself into and out of these locations

Essential collecting equipment in such a habitat, in addition to a maneuverable basket (like a creel) are thick pants and long sleeved shirt or jacket, boots that reach to the knee (like Wellies), leather gloves (Goat or Pig skin preferred), and a sturdy pair of clippers holstered to your belt.

morel collecting equipment

Gloves, Clippers, and Boots: Necessary items for the successful Morel Hunter.

You will have to cut yourself in and out of some of the more productive areas.

As formidable as this seems, sometimes the Morels are very much out in the open. On one collecting trip a few years back I found them growing in the town square, right in the middle of the green, at the front door of the newly constructed Town Court House. The only avenue left for development in this small Apple growing community was to squeeze out a lot or two from between the rows of trees. Easy picking, were these.

As with Elms, the esculenta that come up under Apple trees seem to have a limited run, but it is often for more than three years. The best orchards I have found are those that have been abandoned a dozen years prior and are being converted by natural succession into a mixed forest. Here the Apple trees will die off one or two at a time and the Morels progress from one tree to the next down the row. Often there is an extended life to these orchards as Elms become a dominant tree. Under such conditions it is very likely to see the orchard produce for a decade or longer.

On occasion I will find esculenta under Ash, rarely under Cottonwood. I understand, however, that there are places in the Midwest where Cottonwoods are the only trees that grow in the river valleys and under such conditions that is where the Morels are to be found.

Special areas. There are several special areas that also bear mentioning. Burn sites are often cited in the literature, but I personally have never found them in any of the forest fire areas I have visited in the East. Abandoned railroad grades, however, with their ash embankments can often be productive. In New Jersey that is the preferred location, I am told. And the edges of farm fields which receive a regular treatment of crushed limestone can be fantastic.

For Morchella semilibra, the most productive areas I have found have been in rich bottomland areas on a bench just above a swamp. Butternuts are a good indicator of this type of soil and have proven their worth to me as an indicator tree for semilibra habitat. Verpa conica, on the other hand, comes rarely and with sweet surprise but always early before the trees leaf out, and always under Apple. Worth mentioning is the total lack of V. bohemica in my 40 years of serious collecting: Every specimen given to me for identification or confirmation has the 8 spored asci of M. semilibra, not the giant 2 spores that would indicate bohemica.

Finally, late in the season there is often a small pale Morel that will fruit under Tulip Trees (“Yellow or Tulip Poplar”: Liriodendron tulipifera). Some collectors refer to these mushrooms as M. deliciosus. Geoff Kibby gave them the provisional name M. tulipfera. In some years esculenta/crassipes may be found under these stately trees as well.

As I say, Luck has been with me when I look for Morels. Now something of those other two words,

PREPARATION:

Even if one lives in the best of locations a certain amount of preparation is beneficial in greasing the wheels of fortune. I prepare for the Morel hunt a year or more in advance.

Nakedly stated this may sound absurd and onerous, but the planning actually comes naturally and easily, a few layers at a time, until the early spring when a detailed plan of attack falls into place.

Knowing that productive areas naturally peter out, I make mental note, or at times an actual map, of productive areas as I conduct this year’s hunt. These places become the nodes of next year’s itinerary. I know I can usually count on some mushrooms appearing in these same places next year, but I also know I must continually explore new areas.

With some understanding of the geology of the area I try to visualize how this year’s crop might fit over the geological contours of the land. Maps, past experience, or blind exploration can reveal how the local road system might connect the dots of this year’s productive areas. These are probed at my leisure, as I come and go in my daily travels.

Rather than take the same route on a shopping or business trip, for example, I might try various routes to my destination. This exploration frequently reveals new locations to investigate. Of great assistance in this preliminary stage of the hunt are the presences of indicator trees such as the dying Elms or abandoned Apple Orchards that can be seen from the road.

roadside elms indicate morels

Dying Elms at the edge of a well limed hay field often produce an abundance of Morels.

Elms are especially evident during the last of May and first part of June. Once you learn to distinguish them from late leafing Locust, their stark dead skeletons stand out against the tender green of new foliage in the surrounding forest. A few weeks later the leaf cover of the forest is so thick that they are much more difficult to spot. Another good time to scout for these trees is in the dead of winter.

I am always surprised at how much dead Elm there is. It is very rare to travel a road which does not have a stand or two. Even in the thin, acetic shale soils of the Catskills there are stands of Elm. Their presence usually indicates a local patch of loam, silt, or even clay, trapped perhaps by a bend in a stream, or a pan in the sedimentary rocks of the slope. For obvious reasons, roads that follow valleys are usually the most productive.

Part of the preparation is to keep an ear tuned to the experience of others. Once an old timer told me he would always go to a certain area – location deliberately unrevealed – “during the third week in May” and fill three or four grocery bags from the grass that grew on certain steep hills. I did not know where he collected but from the clues given I kept my eyes open for the contours of land that fit his description and sure enough the following year collected a bushel from one site, a steep limestone outcropping, where the Morels trooped across the grass like little soldiers. There was no evidence of anyone else collecting there, nor has there been for the past decade, so I am reasonable confident that I hadn’t poached on his patch.

On another occasion a gentleman farmer from Columbia County and I were discussing farming and deer damage. During the discussion he told me of a hunter who would give him Morels in the spring in trade for the privilege of hunting on his land during deer season. Mention of a well-known historical site and farm tractor repair shop pointed almost directly to the area. I had never collected there, but the geology seemed right and on a trip to Albany in May a few years later I could not resist exploring some Apple trees on unposted land, across the road from the tractor dealership. Bingo!

And then, once another Morel collector shared with me a photo of his daughter beside a laundry basket full of Morels. The best find he had ever come upon. They were collected, he said, under the dead Elms on the hillside right behind the basket. And there in the photo, to the left of the daughter, half obscured by the trees was a clear road marker which I immediately recognized as being near the Hunter Mountain Ski Slope in Green County. I could never bring myself to go there.

THE PLAN OF ATTACK!

As previously mentioned, the actual route I travel to search out Morels will begin with previously productive areas. I then form hypotheses about the routes that connect the spots I will be visiting. A mental calculus is imposed, the logic of which is scaled to weigh the various factors in play between the spots to be visited. How do the geologic formations, the presence and health of indicator trees, the availability of unposted land, the possibility of avoiding areas other collectors might have visited, the particular weather pattern of this current season (as well as that of the past summer when this year’s crop of Morels would have formed their sclerotia)…. all of these interact and suggest a route to be followed, modified of course by the price of gasoline, the availability of eating establishments along the way, and the reality of the find..

It is not unusual for Leslie and I to pile into our car and spend the day going from place to place, from one county to the next, across roads with wonderful names, scenic views, bracing hikes, cooling springs and streams, up one side of the Hudson and down the other, stopping off at the chance Antique Store and/or eatery to arrive home exhausted and content with Morels in our baskets, fine food in our bellies, and a plan of attack tor the next year.

But of course, if we had just one place to visit, it would be the path along that Railroad grade, near that limestone outcropping, where the Elms were dying off. And there in that seep near the Skunk Cabbage is a place that has never failed..

PERSEVERENCE; THAT FINAL WORD

It is not unusual to visit a site either before or after the prime flush has occurred.

Too late usually means too late, but not always. This year (2008) we had a spell of warm weather in April which moved the season up a week or so in most locations. I normally move northward and into the higher elevations as the season progresses and did so with great success this season. By chance however I stopped off at a spot that had previously sent up an early flush only to discover, late in the month, some very fresh, very large morels.

Visiting a spot too early might lead you to believe it is barren, but a later visit could be very productive. I can’t begin to count the times this has happened to me, finding Morels sometimes on the third visit.

Once on the East Branch of the Delaware river, long after the Hendricksons had come and gone, after the March Browns, the Apple-Green Caddis, the Green Drakes and Turkey season, I passed a stand of Mayapple, the waxy bloom fallen to ground, and crossed the deep shade of the flood plain on my way to try for trout. The bottom land was full of knee deep fern, Symplocarpus in full standing leaf, and just before the six foot tall corridor of Japanese Knotweed was a young flush of esculenta under the Apple Trees where in the Fall a deer hunter would have his stand. It was not the only time that my creel felt comfortably full before I reached the stream.

Once planned, visit your sites early and often. As Shelly put it “hope, till Hope creates From its own wreck, the thing it contemplates.” The worse that can happen is that you might get skunked!

But then again, that might be a good thing.

……………………………………..

ALL PHOTOS BY BILL BAKAITIS

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26 Comments »

  • ruralway Said,

    Terrific post-we’re wondering if you will come by our place in Otsego county and take us mushroom hunting! We have such interesting fungi here, but even with my mushroom guide, I am so afraid of consuming something that will do me in. When we lived in California, I recall that two young members of the Mondavi family ate posion mushrooms ( deathcaps?) and died. So I am hesitant. Can you recommed a good LOCAL guide to foraging for mushrooms? Thanks in advance and I am looking forward to more posts on mushrooms.

  • Bill Said,

    Hi Ruralway,
    I have been away at (of all things) a mushroom conference.

    You are right that having a personal guide is the best way to learn, and that is why Leslie and I go off to the conferences.

    Bouncing betwen NY and Maine and all the other obligations we have will not allow us to take advantage of your offer to mushroom together. Chances are, however, that you probably have resources close by.

    Go to the home page of NAMA http://www.namyco.org/ and follow the links to New York Clubs. Contact the ones nearest to you with your questions. It looks like there may be as many as four clubs that you can join.

    And if you can, by all means attend one of their weekend Forays. The prices are reasonable, usually @ 300-350 for a full Thursday – Sunday Foray. That includes room, board, walks, talks, socials, and the large three dimentional textbook of the display tables where the mushrooms are displayed, organized and identified.

    I’m sure you will find compatriot collectors and make a whole bunch of new friends by hooking up with a local club. Like almost all naturalists, amateur mycologists are unpretentious, warm, and eager to share their knowledge.

    Also, by Googling around with “mushrooms” “fungi” “foraging” you will find a vast internet community. Stick to the clean and moderated sites at first.. There are a lot of suspect pages out there. Common sense will weed them out. In addition to “nama”, try “mushroom expert” “nemf” (Northeastern Mycological Foray) and “tom volk” and follow their links.

    Also try Googling (image) the name of the mushroom you think you have.

    Good Luck, and do write back and let us know how you are doing.

    Bill

  • Nice entry!
    Great, generous, sharing of your knowledge.
    take care, Daniel
    PS: got some nice Verpa & morel photos from the Pacific Northwest

  • Paul Sadowski Said,

    Bill,

    Excellent article! I have posted a link on our NYMS website. It should prove an interesting read forour members.

    Paul

  • Bill Said,

    Hi Paul,

    I am glad you enjoyed the post on morels. The season is just about on us, isn’t it?

    Given all the concern about lead arsenate in morels that has surfaced recently, you might also want to direct your members to a rather long and somewhat comprehensive article concerning this issue posted both at the NEMF website, http://www.nemf.org/files/bakaitis/MORELS_FROM_APPLE_ORCHARDS.pdf,
    and at COMA’s, http://web.mac.com/diannasmith1/FUNGIPHOTOS/BILL_BAKAITIS_Articles/Entries/2009/3/2_MORELS_FROM_THE_APPLE_ORCHARDS%3AA_LOOK_AT_SOME_TOXINS%2C_SOME_RISKS%2CAND_NEED_FOR_SPECIFIC_RESEARCH.html

    I recently spoke with the mushroomer who was diagnosed with arsenic poisoning and he is responding very well to chelation therapy. As you might know Elinoar Shavit, from the Boston Mycological Club is coordinating collections of soil samples and morels this spring in an effort to determine the extent of the risk of eating morels collected from old apple orchards.

    We should know more when these analyses come in.

    Bill

  • Jeff Hodges Said,

    The most comprehensive and generous treatise on finding morels that I have ever seen in print. Bravo! I’ll look forward to reading this post many times over.
    Thanks.

  • Bill Said,

    Hi Jeff,

    Wow, Thanks for the compliment. I hope the advice given proves as good for you in the field as it does in the reading.

    The time for the field test is fast approaching, isn’t it? I’ll probably start with the next rain, in a day or two if the forecast is correct. And I’ll look for the Black Morels first. The Blondes usually follow a week and a half later.

    Luck.

    Bill

  • Travis Bare Said,

    I just got stationed at West Point, New York. i was wondering if you could give me a guidline on what time of year that Morel’s start popping up and where around West Point/Hudson Valley can I go to look for them. I am originally from central Iowa and we normally start finding them there towards the end of April. I greatly appreciate any help you can give me.

  • Bill Said,

    Hi Travis,

    Your timing is excellent. Black Morels are currently being collected around NYC and they should be showing up in Poughkeepsie any day now. After the heat of this weekend areas to the north of the Rhinecliff Bridge will begin to produce.

    Semilibras will follow a week behind, and the first Blondes by the end of the month. MId May is usually the peak of the season.

    Now, no one but a fool is going to give away their own hard won sites, and I ain’t no fool, but if you follow the advice given above, you are sure to find morels, particularly the Blondes which are much more common and easier to find. Follow the back roads, look for the Elms, and Apple Orchards, and since Lead Arsenate toxicity has reared its troublesome head, check out the suggested link given above as well.

    Why not begin with the West Point land and the Black Rock Forest it backs up to? There are also several State Parks in the area. You might also consider joining one of the Mycological Associations nearby: There is one in New York, One in Westchester County, one in New Jersey, and one in the MidHudson/Catskill area. Details can be found here or by Googling specific names.

    I’ll be giving a spring mushroom class for the other CIA (Culinary Institute of America )in mid-May. If you haven’t had success by then call them and ask Prof. John Stein for details and permission to attend.

    Good Luck, and please write back and let us know how you did.

    Bill

  • Roger Goldmann Said,

    Hello Bill,
    I happened to come by your article after googling Morel collecting and enjoyed it very much.
    I live in La Grange in Dutchess County and was pleased to read that you are in our area as well. We have a summer weekend camp in the hills of Pennsylvania 25 miles south of Binghamton NY. This passed weekend we were opening up our camper for the season. We are surrounded by woods,wetlands and beautiful limestone outcroppings. I noticed over the weekend 2 friends of ours who are also campers foraging in the woods and my curiosity got the best of me. Turns out they were searching for morels and seemed to have found a fair amount. I have never searched for mushrooms before but the thought appealed to me very much. I am a very enthusiastic gardener at home, both vegetable and ornamental.
    The next day after seeing our friends luck I went out into the woods for several hours and searched the many different flora situations we have here at the camp ( there is over 200 acres to our disposal) but did not have any luck. My interest was spurred non the less and thus my reason for the google search to see if I could learn what conditions and what time of the year morels
    are most likely to occur.
    Thanks for the information, I will try and use it in my next attempt at searching. It would be interesting to attend your lecture if possible at the Culinary since we live only 20 minutes from there. Any additional information to help a complete novice would always be appreciated. Take care

    Roger Goldmann

  • Bill Said,

    Hi Roger,

    Ain’t that the way it goes. Your own place, perfect conditions and interlopers undercut your collecting chances!

    If it was black morels your neighbors were collecting they do have a head start on you since it often takes quite a trained eye to spot them. See the post on ‘The Firdt Morel Of the Season”. If they were the blondes, at this early moment in the saeason they might be small and gray. When you get to a likely looking spot you might see small hollow yellow cup-like stalks. These would be where your neighbors harvested the morels. Next year you can beat them to the spot!

    In Dutchess County NY blacks have been showing for about two weeks. I expect blondes any day now.

    good luck,

    ps Call or email John (Jay) Stein at the Culinary and see if you can come to the illustrated lecture on Spring Mushrooms Thur. 5/14 from 9:00 to 11:00 in the evening. Yep, those chefs have to keep odd hours; it is sort of like getting into shape for the rigors of running a restaurant.

    Bill

  • Roger Goldmann Said,

    Thanks for the feed back Bill. I will look into contacting Jay.

  • Cindy Kava Said,

    Im trying again to find the Maine morels… Ive been told they are here in abundance this Spring… I am going out tomorrow to hunt in old apple orchards, under skunk cabbage and old lime quarry sites… Am I on the right track? I know I can find them w/ a few hints…. Please help….I will appreciate it so much!

    • theda Cogley Said,

      Hi Cindy I also live in Maine and I have been searching for morel’s and I have not been successful yet…I would like to know if you would be interested in maybe going out hunting with me sometime…if so just msg me at tcogleydy@myfairpoint.net or If any other Mainer’s would be interested please feel free to contact me….

  • Bill Said,

    Hey Cindy,

    Are you a member of Maine Mycological Association? I see that Greg Marley has just posted his latest Coastal Newsletter, all about morels in the MId-Coast area, along with specific local tips you are looking for. Contact him at Mushrooms@midcoast.com. You might also want to subscribe to his newsletter and take some of his courses. He is a great resource, bright, knowledgable, and possessing great social skills.

    …………………………………………..

    Hello also to all of you from the ‘lower Northeast’ who have written and followed these Morel posts,

    The season here is drawing to a close and, for most of us it was a bust. If you didn’t score this year, join the crowd.

    There were some blacks early, but then the four day heat wave in late April seemed to affect the rest of the fungal mycelium in a somewhat drastic fashion. Here is the run down:

    I found a good collection of blondes in very early May, and indications that they had fruited a week or so earlier. Many were already over the hill, and at one spot, indications that someone had been there before me and made a sizeable collection, probably collected during the four days of 90 degree weather .

    Most collectors found few, if any blondes this year. The Culinary Institute of America, for example, had not a single local collector approach them with mushrooms for sale this spring, unlike most years when they can count on local morels in their kitchens and on their menues.

    The scientific collectors with whom I have been collaborating, looking for the Lead Arsenate accumulations, had a hard time finding enough morels for statistically valid comparisons. Even with interval or ratio analysis data, and a large rejection region of .05, a sample size of 10 is absolute rock bottom, and we were hard pressed to meet that meagre mark even after spending 8 to 12 hr days in the field for the better part of two weeks.

    The New York Mycological Group at their Morel Foray found but one morel. Yep, ONE. Reports from New Jersey were equally bleak. I understand that the some spots in the Poconos were moderartely productive, if you knew where to look.

    At the CIA Foray last weekend, a group of 40 or so eager collectors found a grand total of six morels. (Well six and a half if you count the rotted stem of another.) And the morels found were almost all ‘over the hill’ members of the late season spathulata/tulipifera/deliciosa group. Other evidence of the fat lady’s song was the sizeable collection of Honey Mushrooms, that weed of autumn, and a smaller collection of Leccinum scrabrum, a typical fall bolete. These fungi are NOT Spring Mushrooms. Bob Dylan was right: Something here is happening and we don’t know what it is; Do we Mr. Imhoff?

    During the last week I have conducted several hundred-and-fifty-mile excursions over a three state area and aside from the ocassional (elm) tree with a sizeable, but aged, fruiting, found little or nothing.

    Here and there an area was productive: Dennis Aita and crew found a peck or two of bug-filled but still young morels within the past week. He said they were so befouled by the vermin that he couldn’t give them away so had to spend the week eating morels. Poor Dennis! Poor crew. Poor us all.

    There is an alternative hypothesis about this scanty season. Quite often a productive year is followed by a scant one. This seems to particulary so with morels which form their sclerotia for the next season in the summer months following a spring flush. The hypothesis is that the mycelium is spent forcing a flush and needs a season or two to recover. Could that mean 2010?

    Get ready, hope springs eternal when the fungus is among us.

    Bill

  • Judith Noël Gagnon Said,

    Hello,
    I’m looking for that kind of basket for years. Were can I find supplier for my mushroom store.
    Thank you
    Judith from http://www.mycoboutique.ca

  • Bill Said,

    Hi Judith,

    I think I found this particular creel in a second-hand/antique place near Old Town (or Bangor) Maine. I don’t think it is an antique, or was even used, in fact I am pretty sure it is a cheap Asian-made basket. I got a couple of old neckties and from them fashioned a shoulder strap, but the whole thing is rather rickety. The nice thing is that it does hang well at my side and holds a larger collection than the ‘trout-sized’ creels.

    I always keep my eyes open for collecting baskets and by this time have a dozen or so, small ones for the short jot into the brush, larger ones for the hour-long walk, and a ‘boy’s’ Adirondack Pack Basket for the really serious exploration.

    Sorry I can’t be of more help.

    Bill

  • Judith Noël Gagnon Said,

    Thanks and if your visiting Montréal please pass by our store! If you ever find a supplier of Adirondack pack basket please contact me.
    Judith Noël Gagnon
    http://www.mycoboutique.ca

  • stan vanski Said,

    Bill, having just read your post about morels, i’m very excited about the upcoming season. I live in Maine. Have you ever found morels around the midcoast or further south? Elm is somewhat scarce here. Limestone quarries may be found in the midcoast, but I don’t know of any limetsone outcroppings. If you’re here in Maine this summer let’s forage togerther. I have some good spots to share.

    Stan

  • Bill Bakaitis Said,

    Hi Stan,
    Sorry to be tardy in replying. I have been away on a late winter fishing trip to Florida where, believe it or not, there were freeze warnings as far south as Key West. The only fish to be found were in the hot water discharge from a power plant. And they were small.

    About your question: I have never been in Maine during morel season as the collecting (and fishing) in New York in May and June is so good at that time of year. Usually the best collecting for morels comes as soil temperatures are in the low mid-fifties. One collector I know sets his clock by 53 degrees Fahrenheit! So I would expect the morels in the mid-coast area to appear in a progression following this warming pattern; the sunny dry slopes and quarry areas first, the oak forests around lakes, next and the boggy areas last. In the Adirondack region of NY morels can appear a month later than in the mid-Hudson valley.

    Leslie tells me that she has found morels in Maine but only on occasion, once a large collection in a recently spread wood-chip mulch bed, but usually there has been nothing to find.

    I recall seeing elms along the Old County Road, between the quarry sites. Remember too that morels may be found under ash, a tree that seems quite happy to grow in Maine.

    You might check with Greg Marley, Mushrooms for Health, in Camden Maine. He gives mushroom classes and does find morels in the area you are interested in. He writes a swell mushroom newsletter and if you write to him at innrneuf@midcoast.com I believe he will put you on his mailing list,

    Good luck, I think you will need it.

  • Bill Bakaitis Said,

    HEALTH RISKS REPORTED:

    Readers of this post, and morel collectors in general may wish to read of the results of a study http://www.fungimag.com/winter-2010-articles/shavit-morels.pdf conducted last spring which examined Lead and Arsenic contamination in both soils and morels collected from Old Apple Orchards. (See above April 11, 2009 entry)

    In general, in orchards treated with Lead Arsenates, residual amounts of both toxic heavy metals remain in the soil and have been found in the fruiting bodies of morels collected from these sites. The authors conclude that there are modest to severe health risks associated with the consumption of morels collected from contaminated orchards and advise to have the soils from your favorite collecting areas tested before consuming the morels.

    I would add to these caveat that morels (or any mushrooms collected from roadsides used prior to the introduction of unleaded gasoline would presumably carry some of the same risks for lead, though not for Arsenic.

    There is specific information on the various health risks of exposure to both lead and arsenic found in both of the articles referred to in this comment.

    Children and pregnant mothers are at particular risk. Because even low levels of Lead are collected and stored in the bones of our bodies, young women who hope to bear children at a future time should also limit the amounts of lead to which they are exposed.

  • theda Cogley Said,

    I live here in Maine and this is my second year of mushroom hunting and I would like to find people here in Maine who might be interested in going out and look for mushrooms with me we could learn from each other so If you are interested please send me and e-mail to tcogleydy@myfairpoint.net thank you looking forward to hearing from you….

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