Morels

By Amy Crowell
Photography by RJ Liscum

The sign in the window of the bar just down the road from our Ohio farm read: “Free beer and cash prizes for the largest morel.” I wondered why on Earth a bar would be offering free beer in exchange for a mushroom. Were the bar regulars out mucking about in the woods searching for fungi at that very moment? Really?

During early spring in Ohio (similar in temperature to Austin’s late fall and winter), you can pull up alongside most any road and find a little snowmelt trickle of water running down a hillside.

Along that path, in the rock crevices, morels are commonly found. As it turns out, these mushrooms are some of the most sought-after wild delicacies of the fungi world. I guess that explains why, in the northwesternmost reaches of rural Appalachia, bar stools stood empty during a mad dash to find the exotic “Big Kahuna”—before happy hour started.

The bar contest reminded me how amazing it was to stumble upon morels in a little spring-fed canyon outside of Blanco, Texas a few years earlier. I hadn’t heard of any morel hunters in Central Texas (or even of any morels to be hunted) before that day when my friend Ryan—who was obsessed with mushrooms at the time—yelped to the rest of us on the hike, “Hey, that’s a morel!” And there it was, perched with some buddies in the crevices near a maidenhair fern. We took the treasures home and sautéed them in butter. The memory still lingers on my tongue.

When hunting for morels in Central Texas, consider these tips:

• Wait until we’ve had a good, wet month and the waters are flowing.

• Begin looking in the spring. And remember, in Texas, “spring” pops up here and there throughout fall and winter.

• Morels like to grow in moist, cool places out of direct sunlight—under and around decaying logs, near seeps or springs and in riparian zones along rivers. But mushrooms can grow anywhere under the right conditions.

• Watch out for false morels. True morels are hollow inside while false morels have spongy chambers running throughout. Before you go morel hunting, consult a guidebook and make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for!