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Late Season Leviathans

IMG_9733Hunting morels is often a fruitless endeavor.  For every picture I’ve posted,  there are probably two or three fruitless forays, at least.  But the hunt gets a bit easier toward the end of the season, when the mushrooms are bigger.  Much bigger.

IMG_9738On Friday afternoon, I shut down my work computer and bolted into the woods. It was a nice evening, and conditions were promising – we’d had some decent rain, and warm temperatures, and it was getting late in the season.  I knew that if they were out there, I’d spot them, and I was right.

For a few moments, it was easy.  The late season leviathans towered (for morels) four, five and six inches above the forest floor,  and they were illuminated like Chinese lanterns by the slanting afternoon sun.

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These giants are thrilling to spot, and I was in a productive area of the forest.  I filled my bag half-full. I did leave a few behind, to help ensure the propagation of the mycelium for the future.

The big morels are drier and, in my opinion, a bit past their prime.  They’re not as perfectly fresh and dense as they are when they’re a bit smaller.  For sauteeing with a steak, or popping into a risotto, I prefer early-season morels.  However, the late-season giants are great for dehydrating, and also work well coated with cracker crumbs or panko and fried.

This particular haul was immediately cleaned and dried. I’m going to send them off to my brother, who lives in Arizona, and who hasn’t seen a Midwest morel for a long time.

While things are about spent here in Illinois, I’m going to take a look around some woods up in Wisconsin, where I keep my retired horse, tomorrow.   Then that should be it for a few weeks. Next up are chicken of the woods and oysters, which I’ve never found in the summer but I’m told are relatively common.  We’ll see!

 

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A fruitful foray

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I waited exactly six days before revisiting the nice little patch of dinky morels I has spotted last week, and was rewarded for my efforts.

As nice as this find is, a few other recent forays have not been successful.  I believe we’re just at the beginning of morel season, and this week’s warm temperatures should hopefully get things going.  A little rain is in the forecast, and that would help too.

Even though I returned empty-handed from a few ventures, I still enjoyed my tramps – lots of wild flowers are in bloom, and seeing them some thing I enjoy as as much — okay, almost as much — finding a nice fruiting of morels.

Virginia bluebells.

Virginia bluebells.

A wee little baby morel.

A wee little baby morel.

 

A very pretty yellow violet.

A very pretty yellow violet.

 

Unknown.

Lesser Celandine. 

Large patch of lilies of the valley, not yet in bloom.

Large patch of lilies of the valley, not yet in bloom.

 

The bluebells, again.

The bluebells, again.

Lilies of the valley.  And a morel.

Lilies of the valley. And a morel.

 

Jack in the pulpit.  And a morel.

Jack in the pulpit. And a morel.

 

It’s not time. Not yet.

Reports of morel harvests in southern Illinois have started to roll in, inflaming the imaginations of shroomers in northern climes.

Mayapples. Immature, baby mayapples - weeks away from blooming.

But it’s not time yet.  Not up north.  A good rule of thumb, people say, are mayapple blooms. I spotted these babies last weekend – and we’re weeks away from blooms.

Up here, morels happen in May.

It’s not time.  Not yet.

Hope Springs.

Last weekend’s temperatures soared into the 80’s, and then were followed by some nice drenching rain.  Good mushroom conditions – except for the fact that it’s early April here in northern Illinois.  We’re still a few weeks away from morel season.

My family casually hunted morels when I was a kid but we weren’t devoted hunters.  However, I started paying attention to wild mushrooms again a couple years ago, and made a devoted effort to go out and look last fall.   To say that I was handsomely rewarded is gross understatement:

 

A fantastic one-day haul: hens-of-the-woods, honey mushrooms and giant puffballs

 

I brought home four hens-of-the-woods, two giant puffballs and scores of honey mushrooms.

It was a truly magical day. The honey mushrooms were clustered by the multiple dozens around an oak tree, and next to them were three hens of the woods. I already had found another hen, which I almost dropped in excitement when I saw the hens and honeys arrayed in front of me.

 

Honey mushrooms growing next to a hen of the woods

I literally gathered what I could carry.  Both are perennial, and I know where their tree is. More will be found there this fall.   I staggered out of the woods with my load, and filled up the back seat of my car.

But the riches didn’t end there.  Driving down the country highway, I spotted giant puffballs growing under trees by the road. I swung into the driveway, and knocked at the door.

The woman who answered was very interested when I told her that I suspected that she had some delicious giant puffballs in her yard, and accepted my offer to identify them.

 

Giant puffballs

 

I cut one open, and it was pure white inside, with zero greening.  They were perfect puffballs, ready to eat. Uncertain about eating mushrooms found in her hard, she offered them to me.  I accepted but took only two, leaving the third to (hopefully) reproduce.

I am sure that this wildly successful day was an anomoly. I’m trying not to let my expectations become too unrealistic.

But I won’t kid you.  Come may, I hope to regale you with tales of morels.  And oyster mushrooms. And chicken mushrooms.  And in June, chantrelles…

Hope in the spring.  There’s a reason for that old adage.