Morel mushrooms are a big deal in Indiana. The smooth-stalked, spongey-topped mushrooms are treasured by their dedicated hunters for their meaty, nutty taste and rareness. Morels resist domestication, so even the most savvy of hunters can never guarantee coming across the mushrooms.
Morels hunters have a small window to find the mushrooms: from early April to early June. They are most often found near dead or dying hardwood trees, as the decaying root systems nourish the mushrooms.
As if locating morels isn't hard enough, morel hunters are extremely guarded about their knowledge of good hunting spots. The secrecy and rarity of the morels have led them to be called "truffles for the middle class," an allusion to the highly coveted mushrooms that can cost up to $3,600/pound.
Knowing that morels are difficult to find, especially for a novice such as myself, I opted to attend the sixth annual Morel Mushroom Festival at the Brown County State Park. This would give me a chance to hunt in the park, but would also ensure that I would leave with purchased morels in case my hunting was fruitless.
My prediction was correct: I found zero morels while hiking through the forests of Brown County. Admittedly, I wasn't looking too hard. My uncle warned my mom to beware of snakes, so my mom and I were too afraid to do much thorough examination in fear of disturbing a snake nest or similarly frightening forest-dweller.
|Serious morel hunter|
Although we did not find any morels, the hunt was enjoyable nonetheless. I had never hiked through Brown County State Park before, but it is just as beautiful as I had heard. The park consists of over 15,700 acres and is the largest state park in Indiana; this provides ample land for exploration and admiration.
|Brown County State Park woods|
|The only mushrooms found on our hunt|
After our unsuccessful hunt, my mom and I joined the long line of morel enthusiasts and bought a half pound bag of the mushrooms for a whopping $25. Although this was considerably less than the $1800 a half pound of truffles would cost, it was still a pricey figure. The things I do for this blog...
In addition to a morel sale, the festival offered music by the aptly-named band Jack Morel and the Spores and a crafts tent.
|Jack Morel & the Spores|
|Morel-topped walking sticks|
There was also a seemingly-random but nonetheless-interesting birds of prey demonstration.
|Members of the Indiana Raptor Society speak about local birds of prey|
|Patrick, an American Kestrel|
After returning from the festival, my mom soaked our purchases in saltwater upon the recommendation of my cousin-in-law who is apparently a pro morel hunter. This solution extracts any gross bugs or dirt that might be found in the hollow mushrooms. She then rinsed, dried and cut the morels in preparation for a breakfast of cheese-and-morel omelets.
I thought the morels were kind of gross in the omelet. They weren't very well cooked and tasted rubbery and bland. I was quite disappointed in them.
Until I fried them. Fried morels are the way to go. They are incredibly easy to make, too. Just coat the slices in flour and fry them in vegetable oil or butter. Before frying they feel and taste rubbery, similar to bad pasta. After frying, they become crispy and attain the fabled meaty, nutty taste morel hunters treasure so dearly.
Even though my hunting was unsuccessful and the morels were expensive, it was worthwhile. Maybe I will try to charm my family's seasoned morel hunters and persuade them to let me tag along on next spring's hunt.