After 10 years, Marion resident Thomas Ash doesn’t have to look for elusive morel mushrooms anymore. He has a spot just outside of town that he can go to and harvest them when the conditions are right, and like any good “shroomer,” that location is his secret.
He started hunting morels because he loves the outdoors and likes hunting turkey in the spring, so he started keeping an eye out for them on his turkey hunts.
“The first time I went out looking for them I walked miles and miles and miles and never found one,” Ash said. “They are difficult to find if you have never hunted them before. But the more you do it the easier it gets. You just have to keep your eyes to the ground.”
Ash said the window of opportunity for finding them is about a two to three week period that depends on a perfect storm of variables.
“They usually pop in the spring time around April,” he said Thursday. “With this wet weather we are having they should really pop up this weekend.”
Morels typically appear when temperatures reach about 70 to 80 degrees during the day and the nights get down to the lower 50s and upper 40s.
“Morels like dead tree matter — around here, mostly dead elm and cottonwoods — and just the right blend of sun and shade,” Ash said. “You can find them in low line creek bottoms that have a hilltop above.”
He has found gray, yellow, and false morels in the area.
“The grays pop first and the yellows come about a week or two later,” Ash said. “False morels look the same as the real ones but with one exception. When you cut them open, true morels are completely hollow from stem to cap. The false ones are not.”
False morels are not edible because they are poisonous.
When Ash harvests morels, he takes a pocketknife along and cuts the mushroom just above the dirt line.
Last year, he harvested enough to use in four family meals, give away several shopping bags worth to friends, and sell the remaining 3 lbs. to a guy he knows in Colorado.
When he cooks morels, he likes to keep his recipes simple to appreciate their flavor.
“It’s difficult to describe their taste,” he said. “They are pretty rich, very meaty with a woodsy taste, like a Portobello on steroids but that’s a bad analogy because they’re also very delicate.”
He favors two recipes. In both recipes, he said, the mushrooms should be washed thoroughly prior to cooking.
“When I do mine fried, I cut them lengthwise and dip them in an egg wash,” he said. “Then you just add your favorite flour seasoning, fry until they are golden brown, and enjoy with ranch dressing.”
However, Ash said the full flavor of the morel can be truly embraced when they are grilled or sautéed.
“Leave them whole, drizzle with olive oil or butter, and lightly salt and pepper them,” he said. “Then sauté in a pan or throw them on a hot grill for about 30 seconds a side. It’s crazy good.”