A Guide to Morel Mushrooms
These delicate flavored mushrooms are typically foraged and harvested in the wild. They can also be purchased from the grocery store or farmers’ markets when in season, with prices sometimes reaching over $40lb.
Although this mushroom species has been cultivation-resistant for a long time, there are new growing techniques which mean backyard growing is finally possible.
Let’s first take a closer look at this fascinating and delicious mushroom variety.
What are Morels?
These distinctive mushrooms are spongy and have a cone-shaped cap. They are between 2 and 14 inches tall and the well pitted caps can be any color from creamy white to near-black. The stem is white or cream-colored.
These mushrooms are hollow and they can be prepared in a variety of ways, such as sautéing or steaming. They can also be frozen or dried so you can enjoy them out of season too.
Morel mushrooms are usually found in wooded areas in North America and Europe, growing around tree species such as oaks, fruit types, aspen, ash, maple, elm and some others.
You can find tips and tricks for finding wild Morels here Morel Mushroom info
Morel Mushroom Varieties
There are different morel varieties which begin appearing at different times, and under different climate conditions. In the United States, black morels (Morchella elata) tend to appear earliest in the spring months, usually growing abundantly for the fist few weeks of spring. These have very dark brown caps and tend to form large loose groups. If you find one there is a very good chance there are more nearby.
Next you will see yellow morels (Morchella esculenta) which have yellow caps, making them more difficult to find under fallen leaves. These can be by themselves or in small groups. Yellow and Hardwood Morels are often together and look very much alike. Some can grow to over 12 inches tall!
Late morels (Morchella deliciosa) have yellow caps too, and these come later in the spring and are the smallest variety and the most difficult to find.
Cooking with Morel Mushrooms
Morels should be rinsed briefly in cold water and then air dried.
You can cut morel mushrooms into quarters or halves, or even leave them intact if they’re small to start with.
Try sautéing morel mushrooms with asparagus for a seasonal springtime delicacy. Such a side dish would pair beautifully with roasted chicken or poached fish. You can also use these delicate little mushrooms in a risotto or omelet. Morels can be added to nearly any dish to improve the flavor and nutrient content.
How Do They Taste?
Even if you aren’t typically a mushroom lover, you might still like the flavor of morels because they are quite different to many other varieties. Morels are nutty and earthy tasting, with the darker colored ones being nuttier, richer and smokier.
How to Store Morel Mushrooms
Keep unwashed morel mushrooms in a paper bag and use them soon. Refrigeration dries them out although they should stay fresh in there for a week. A plastic bag will speed up rot so opt for paper.
As long as you dry these mushrooms properly they can be frozen. This way they will keep for months. Thawed morels will taste the same but have a mushy texture, so they will be fine for pureeing or mincing.
Another idea is to dry them. Morels can be quickly reconstituted and dried they will keep for up to six months. This is the most often used method of preserving Morels and preserves both the texture and flavor of the mushroom.
Morels are low in calories and rich in fiber, minerals including iron and magnesium, antioxidants and vitamins. They actually have more Vitamin D than any other edible mushroom, and are a good protein source for those who don’t eat meat.
Where to Find or Buy Morel Mushrooms
Morels crop up from March to June in the woods, depending on the weather. Temperature fluctuations as well as rainfall amounts can shorten the season or delay it for several weeks, while favorable weather can extend the season a few weeks.
Mushroom foragers sell morels and you can find these at specialty stores and farmers’ markets, as well as the dried or frozen varieties online.
Look out for plump, fresh looking morels and check the cut ends aren’t dried out. Don’t buy anything that seems brittle or dry. Also don’t buy soft or bruised mushrooms, especially if you aren’t going to use them right away, since this type of damage will cause them to rot fast.
Can You Grow Morel Mushrooms?
Morels are not easy to farm commercially, but it is possible to recreate the conditions for growth easily in a backyard or forest environment, given the right starting materials. Healthy spores, active spawn, and mycelium specific nutrients have made it possible to cultivate a Morel patch right at home. If you have patience and can create a good growing area, it is possible to cultivate morels in your back garden. If you’re new to outdoor mushroom cultivation remember that most of the growing will happen out of sight and underground, and that Morels sometimes take an entire year before starting to fruit. However, they will fruit again year after year with no further work once they are established.
How to Cultivate Morels at Home
Choose a well shaded area which gets no more than a couple hours of sunlight a day. The middle of landscape areas work well. Daytime temperatures should be above freezing when planting, since morels typically grow in early spring when the weather is still cool.