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America’s fanciest restaurants may charge you a pretty penny for a fine dish that features “wild” mushrooms the likes of a portabella, oyster or shiitake.

Whatever! Color us not impressed.

Most of those mushrooms are grown in a damp warehouse, says creators Gregory Mueller and Joe McFarland, also co-authors of the book "Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois and Surrounding States."

It’s among the hills and hollers of Southern Illinois and surrounding states that you’ll find truly wild mushrooms, “including a few select treasures that can’t be cultivated,” say these mushroom men.

Mushroom hunting is as much art as it is pursuit. It requires patience and a skilled eye. One should also be armed with knowledge of what’s edible and what’s not -- as the alternative would be a deadly guessing game you don’t want to play.

When it comes to mushrooms, the king of kings in Southern Illinois is the morel. This honeycombed-shaped mushroom is so ugly it’s cute. But it’s the taste that makes the hunt pay off.

Grill ‘em.

Fry ‘em.

Sauté 'em in garlic butter.

However you choose to indulge, you won’t be disappointed by your fungi friends. In fact, morels are sought after by chefs worldwide and a pound can draw anywhere from $30 to $50 or more.

Morel hunting is mainly a springtime endeavor. But, if you’re one of the thousands who fall in love with the pursuit, there’s good news: Mushroom hunting takes place in the fall, too. There are about 40 edible species in the state, and around 30 can be found in late August, September and October, according to McFarland. There’s also less competition in the fall.

But word to the wise: Do not, again, we caution, do not, trespass on private property. Nothing irritates a mushroom hunter like another lurking around their sacred mushroom ground.

Happy hunting, y’all.

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Molly Parker is general assignment and investigative projects reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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