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Has spring sprung?

In to the Wind

March 20, 2012
By Mike Gilchrist , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

So what if they called for winter and it never arrived? What if the snow blowers and snow plows all collected cobwebs?

The winter of 2011 2012 will go down as the one which never fully arrived. It looked through the door, tried to come in, but never mustered enough courage to enter. The Weather Bully has been kept at bay-at least so far.

This is the first year here at Gilly Hollow a plow has not gone down the lane for snow removal efforts. The plow always moves gravel from the lane and onto the grass. I won't have to painstakingly move all that rock back onto the lane this year.

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However, it's probably not a good idea to count your chickens before they hatch. It might not be over yet. April 9, 1973, Iowa and much of the Midwest awoke to a blizzard and white out conditions. With late May weather gracing us in March; such thoughts seem somehow abstract and distant.

There is one particular ritual of spring which beckons; morel hunting.

A spring walk in the woods is summoning me. I long for the sight of the May apple, and the smell of apple blossoms. With heightened senses, and sunlight filtering through the budding trees playing a dappled game amongst last fall's leaves, I'll scan. I'll scout and try to decipher color and texture, while trying not to being fooled by walnut shells or corn cobs carried to the timber by foraging deer.

How can a lowly fungi cause people to descend into spring madness?

With several days of temperatures in the 70s, and night time temperatures close to 60, it seems conditions are ripe for the little fungi to pop. Just as soon as I get this column written and filed, it is my intention to venture down to the timber and have a look.

Once bitten by the bug, morel hunters begin an annual spring ritual. Prime habitat and its location are guarded like a family secret. Tales of the "honey tree" and the bounty of years past grow exponentially, not unlike similar tales told of ones biggest fish catch. Morel hunters are every bit the grandiose liars as other sportspersons -- hunters or fishers.

But alas, the past two years have been less than stellar for mushroom hunting, at least in my timber. Many others have told me the same thing. I have three years of "want" bottled up and ready to explode.

In the past few years I have become re-familiarized with the quest for the morel. I have learned that one must enter into a certain frame of mind where you become one with nature. Color and texture is the best indicator of the presence of the morel. Once you find the first, it pays to stand back a couple paces and stare at the cap and note the color, orientation and especially the texture. One you become attuned to these cues, the others just seem to jump out at you.

I have also learned that when you find that first one, you need to stop and look around. Usually you will find a few or maybe even many more in the vicinity. Some of those you might have even stepped on before your senses snapped to attention.

Using a walking stick is a must while mushroom hunting. Using the stick, you can move fallen bark and plants out of the way to look under them. You also need to become one with that stick and imbibe magical qualities to it. You do have to enter into a frame of mind where your senses all are working together. You can, under certain circumstances smell the presence of the underground mycelium from which the fruits pop up.

Of course all efforts are for naught if you aren't in the right place. If you know where morels have been found in the past, there is a good place to start. Of course, like I stated earlier, most people guard their spots zealously, and any directions given by a seasoned hunter should be suspect.

The soil temperature has to be just right. So does ground moisture. Once the ground reaches a certain temperature and the ground is drained, yet moist, with no standing water, the morels will pop.

Bearing in mind that certain helpful hints from other hunters is suspect, I have tried out many of the theories other hunters have told me. Some have panned out, while most haven't.

The part of our timber which contains elms, both living and dead has been a good source of morels in the past, but not always.

I'm thinking that some "out of the box" analysis is in order. The grassy border on the west side of the timber is probably the warmest because of the afternoon sun this week. That is where I will begin my quest.

Morels need to be processed fairly quickly after the harvest. The dirt has to be washed off the stems and bad spots pinched from the fruit. We always split them down the middle lengthwise and put them in a bowl containing salt water. This will force all those little bugs which might have climbed inside to swim for their lives. After a short brine bath, I like to dry them on a towel. I believe the best way to cook them is to dredge them in seasoned flour, egg, and then fry them in butter.

I'm going! But if you ask me how I did, I might set you on a false trail and maybe even embellish the story a bit. Of course if you're lucky, I might even invite you over to share in the feast, especially if you bring fresh caught crappie. I'll supply the asparagus.

I don't know about you, but I can hardly wait.

Until next time--

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on the "Local Columns" button at the bottom of the page.

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2012 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.



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