Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Morel Madness in Minnesota May 9, 2012

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This morel measures about eight inches high.

MY SISTER, LANAE, and her husband, Dale, were giddy as two kids in a candy store when Dale walked in with the net bag plumped with a dozen morels.

Lanae grabbed her camera. I grabbed mine. And we photographed the largest morels I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve seen many of these tasty mushrooms…but the tallest, an eight-inch high chunky morel, certainly impressed me.

It’s been a bumper crop year for morels in Minnesota, according to my brother-in-law, who has been hunting for this savory spring treat since he was a kid growing up in southwestern Iowa. He remembers piling into the family car afer church on hot, humid mornings and heading to the wooded hills west of Defiance to search for morels.

Dale lives in southeastern Minnesota now and, through the years, has uncovered morel hotbeds. He revealed the location of his latest find—within a half hour of his Waseca home—and then instructed me, with a grin spreading across this face, that he’d have to kill me if I shared the specific location.

My lips are zipped.

However, Dale offered this publishable tip to finding morels: on the south side of wooded hillsides where there are dead elms or where elms once grew.

I didn’t realize just how serious my brother-in-law is about this morel business until he sat down at his laptop and clicked onto morels.com, an online community bulletin board/information center for “Morel Madness 2012.” Here you can see photos of the latest morel finds and, surprisingly, even find out where to find morels. Or you can inquire about buying and selling.

Dale tells me morels were selling recently for $20 – $35 a pound on Craig’s list and eBay.

While earlier this spring my sister and her husband bought morels, they have plenty of their own now. A week ago Saturday Dale harvested some 65 morels from one location. Morels are sprouting two weeks earlier and are more abundant than normal this year, probably due to the unseasonably warm April, he speculates. The season has nearly ended now.

But this morel-loving couple will still be eating mushrooms into the summer and beyond as Dale dehydrates them. For now, this pair savors fresh morels, sauteed in butter. Lanae even saves the butter and reuses it to fry eggs, to make grilled cheese sandwiches and to put on asparagus. The butter has a “nice nutty flavor,” she says.

All of this morel show-and-tell got me interested in morels, which I found once perhaps two decades ago in the woods behind my house. I’ll admit, though, to a bit of nervousness over identifying morels.

Dale showed me a photo of a poisonous false morel and then offered this advice: “If it ain’t hollow, don’t swallow.”

Translate that to mean that edible morels are hollow inside. If you click here to Mushroom-Appreciation.com, you’ll find even more useful identification tips. I wouldn’t want you heading into the woods uninformed.

Perhaps next year my brother-in-law will allow me to join him on a morel hunt, if I promise not to photograph anything specific to give away his secret location.

Dale’s latest stash of morels, harvested on Saturday morning near his Waseca home.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling