According to that group, the first morels of the season were found at the end of March in Franklin and Perry counties. And, the latest progression map the group shared indicates morels have been found so far this year in Randolph, Perry, Franklin, Jackson, Williamson, Saline, Hardin, Massac, Johnson, Union, Alexander and Pulaski counties.
Here are some things you should know before you head out to hunt for the delicious and sometimes elusive treat.
'Tis the Season
Morel mushrooms like rain and warm weather. They start to pop up in the woods when daytime temperatures climb to near 60 degrees, with nighttime lows around 40. In Southern Illinois, the season usually begins in late March and runs through April.
Gear: Your hiking gear will depend on the terrain you plan on traversing, but a walking stick is always nice. Bag: A mesh potato or onion bag works best, allowing bugs and debris to fall to the ground. Bug repellent: A must. Especially as the weather heats up. A mushroom field guide: While morels are edible and delicious, many wild mushrooms can be poisonous and even deadly. Novice mushroom hunters should do their research. Numerous books and online resources are available to guide you; however, the best way to learn the difference is from an experienced mushroom hunter. Some message boards and Facebook pages are geared toward morel hunters and will identify the variety from pictures posted to the site.
You want to make sure that the land you are mushroom hunting on is not privately owned. Many morel hunters take it personally if they find someone trespassing on their secret spot.
Location, Location, Location
Location: Start by looking around the bases of ash, elm, tulip poplar, sycamore and apple trees.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
Quickly scan the area until you find your first mushroom, then slow your pace and keep your eyes peeled. Usually if you can find one, there will be a couple more within the area.
Watch Your Step
Watch your step: Morels can camouflage into the forest floor. If you aren’t careful you might just squish your treasure.
When picking morels from the ground, pinch the base of the mushroom and pull it upwards. Try to brush off the dirt and debris before you put it in your bag, it will make things a lot easier when preparing to cook.
Patience Is A Virtue
Remember mushroom hunting takes patience. While on some trips you might only find one or two morel, other trips you might find more than you can carry.
To Sell Or Not To Sell
Many veteran hunters would never sell their rare finds, but many people pay upwards of $20 per pound for these rare treats.
Morels must always be cooked before eating. The mushrooms contain a toxin that is destroyed by cooking. Eating them raw can cause gastric distress. When consuming morels for the first time, eat only a small amount. If there are no ill effects, enjoy the tasty morels.
Morels can be cooked like any other mushroom – fried, sautéed or grilled. Since their flavor is unique, most morel hunters suggest simply frying or sautéing. Try sautéing them with olive oil or butter and a little garlic.
Find our favorite morel recipes here.