INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Morel mushrooms are a rare delicacy highly sought after by mushroom connoisseurs. One of the reasons they’re so special is because all morels are handpicked in their natural habitat – they cannot be farmed like other mushrooms you find at the grocery store.
That’s also why they’re so expensive – a pound of the mushrooms sell for around $40.
But recently a pound of morels sold for $125 at a local festival. At the price of about a buck a bite, they’re usually reserved for special occasions at fancy restaurants.
With such high stakes, it’s assumed these mushrooms must be rare and difficult to find, so we enlisted the help of one of the most skilled mushroom hunters in the Midwest – Ninja Shroomer.
Ninja Shroomer is very well-known among mushroom hunters – he gives daily tips on his blog which has thousands of followers.
He’s been hunting mushrooms his entire life, but he says his passion became an obsession about 10 years ago. He has a completely separate full time job, but he schedules all of his vacation time in the spring during morel season.
Because mushroom hunting is very competitive, you have to implement strategies and think outside the box. He says one of those strategies is out-walking people. In the next month, Ninja Shroomer says he’ll walk about 1,000 miles hunting for mushrooms.
Another strategy is going where no one else will go. Ninja Shroomer will spend several days deep in the forests, sleeping in a hammock and eating nettles and other edible plants for nutrition.
Generally, his efforts pay off. This year is a bit of a down year because of the harsh winter, but last year he picked 100 pounds of morels.
Many people would sell that bounty for extra cash, but Ninja Shroomer keeps the morels for himself and his family. He also, gives a lot of them away to older people who are no longer able to forage.
His skill is self-taught, learning everything he knows from videos and blogs online. And now he loves sharing his passion with others.
So together, we set off in the woods to hunt for the crown jewel of Indiana’s forests.
When is the best time?
The best time to hunt for morels in Indiana is during the spring between April and May. The morel season was delayed this year by about two weeks because of the late April snow. Ninja Shroomer says a good rule to remember is the 40-50-60 rule. Morels grow best when it’s 40 degrees at night and 60 degrees during the day because that means the ground temperature is about 50 degrees.
Also, we went morel hunting the day after it rained, which is actually the best time to find them. Morels start showing themselves after a good spring rain. However, keep in mind, too much rain isn’t good either. Morels are like Goldilocks, they like everything “just right.”
Look at the trees
Ninja Shroomer never looks at the ground when hunting for mushrooms. He always looks at the trees – but not just any trees. Morels are often found at the base of sycamores, ashes, and elms. It’s even better if the trees are dying.
The Three T’s – Timing, Trees, and Texture
We’ve discussed timing and trees, so let’s talk about texture. Morels can be a variety of different colors, but they all have a honeycomb texture. When looking at the forest floor, just concentrate on looking for that honeycomb texture, and you’ll be more productive with your time.
There is a wide variety of poisonous mushrooms in the forest. That’s why it’s VERY important to only pick the mushrooms you know are safe. One of the biggest appeals of morel mushrooms is they’re so unique-looking it’s unlikely you’ll confuse them with other mushrooms.
There’s a type of mushroom nicknamed “false morels” that you need to stay away from to avoid getting sick. They look similar to morels, but there are easy ways to spot the differences. Unlike true morels, the tops of false morels are not attached, and the inside is not hollow.
How to pick morels
Pick morels simply by cutting the bottom of the stem with a knife. If you don’t have a knife, you can pinch the bottom of the stem close to the ground. Once picked, do not put them in a plastic bag. That will cause them to degrade. Mesh bags are best, but if that’s not available, opt for a paper bag.
How to store morels
Store morels in the refrigerator in a Ziploc bag with a paper towel to soak up the moisture. They should last several weeks.
How to prepare them
You cannot eat raw morel mushrooms. I repeat, you cannot eat raw morel mushrooms. You must cook the morels before eating them. Ninja Shroomer recommends sautéing them or frying them so the flavor of the morels really stands out.
Keep in mind, you’re going to be mushroom hunting in the middle of the woods. It’s very easy to get turned around, so make sure to carry your phone, GPS, map or compass. Also, wear long pants and socks to protect your legs from scratches and bug bites.
Following state laws
It’s important to know where you can and can’t go morel mushroom hunting so you’re not slapped with a fine or arrested for trespassing. The Indiana DNR has issued dozens of citations to people in the past few years for hunting plants and fungi on someone’s property without consent.
The DNR has a free form that you and the landowner can fill out that gives shows you have legal permission to be on the private property.
Mushroom hunting for individual use is permitted on state park properties, and no license is required to do so. Picking mushrooms for sale/commercial use at a state park property is NOT permitted.
Follow Ninja Shroomer’s blog for more mushroom hunting and outdoor activity tips and tricks.
Also, the Hoosier Mushroom Society offers a wide variety of certification courses every year. You can find out more info here.