Morel mushrooms – the versatile fungus that many consider to be a delicacy – should be popping up soon in Petoskey, MI and the nearby northern Michigan communities of Harbor Springs, Boyne City and Bay Harbor. With their arrival come the mighty hunters looking to stake their claims over that “special, secret spot” that they’ll share with only the closest of friends and family.
What a great way to enjoy the great outdoors! Morel mushroom hunting is the ultimate in scavenger hunts – the clues are there if you know what you’re looking for. Locations that are damp is the first key in unlocking the secret of snooping out the morel. Other things to look for include various dead (or deteriorating) trees, a lot of fallen trees, abandoned orchards, and even certain types of wildflowers. In Boyne City, Petoskey and Harbor Springs, you will often see a morel cuddled closely to trillium.
Like many things, morel hunting is not something we recommend you try on your own the first time. False morels are easy to find, but difficult to identify if you are not familiar with them; they are also toxic – so swallow any false pride you may have and ask someone who has been around the field at least a time or two!
Of course, not everyone is thrilled by the hunt, but may still want to take advantage of the yummy, woody flavor found in morels. For those folks, we suggest a couple of options. The first is a stop at Michigan Mushroom Market in Petoskey, Michigan. Though the storefront is fairly new, Ken and Ashleigh Harris have been well known in the area for quite some time, selling their chanterelles, black trumpets, lobster mushrooms and, of course, morel mushrooms at area farmers markets. Ken and Ashleigh are both recognized as certified “mushroom experts” in the state of Michigan and the couple are happy to set you up with dried morels.
Morel mania comes to a head in northern Michigan in May when the National Morel Mushroom Festival takes place in Boyne City, MI. The festival, held annually the weekend after Mother’s Day, offers something for both the hunter and the buyer.
Hunters may want to take advantage of another local morel expert, Tony Williams, when he offers his morel seminar. Or, for the Super Bowl of mushroom hunts, register for the National Mushroom Hunt (always held of the Saturday of festival) and see how many morels you can find in the time allotted. Sometimes the winner walks away with a few dozen, other years when rainfall and warm temperatures have been plentiful, the haul for the winner has been, too!
The “non-hunter” may skip the fanfare of competition and go directly to the festival’s premier event, the Taste of Morels. Here local chefs and restaurants gather to put their favorite spin on the ‘shrooms – morel pizza, chicken morel, morel bisque, and other culinary creations are part of the experience. And the chance to win the Great Morel Giveaway is good reason to tour some of the shops and businesses of Boyne City, where you’ll find not only some great merchandise, but also the forms to register to win two pounds of morels!
Whether they’re yellow, black or white, dried, sautéed, or stirred into soup – morel mushrooms are versatile, healthy and offer an opportunity to get you off the couch and into the fresh air. Do remember to take a collection bag (netted preferred) for your find as you journey into the woods and fields. Almost as important, don’t forget your patience – they call it morel “hunting” for a reason!