Sunday, April 12, 2020

Another kind of Hunting

         It is ‘mushroom’ week here in my area of the Ozarks.  I found the first ones on the second day of April, which is unusual because the average time of eruption over the years has been about 10 to14 days into the month.  I have what I call an ‘indicator tree’.   It is a big ash tree on my place where the very first mushrooms appear each spring, and over a two-week period in past years it has produced from 20 to 35 mushrooms. 

         I found three there a few days back and I know that it will have more.  Then about a week later there will be mushrooms sprouting up on Truman Lake, about 30 miles north of me as the crow flies.  A week or so later there will be mushrooms to find in north Missouri.

         Folks get excited about finding extremely large morels.  I have found one about 12 inches tall with a diameter of nearly 4 inches.   BUT… I am usually in southern Canada on some lake that first week of June, and there, when you find morels, they AVERAGE 10 or 12 inches.  I have found morels there that were 15 inches tall.  I never look for them in Canada; you just find them along the lakeshore here and there.  Some years though you never see one.  But when they are there, they are very big.

          I recommend that if you have never found morel mushrooms, you begin looking for them around very large ash trees.  Ash trees send out long large roots which may curve around as far as 15-feet from the trunk. The tops of those roots stick up out of the ground.  Mushrooms grow up all around those roots.  But over the years I have found morels in cedar groves where larger cedars grow, around big sycamores along waterways, around open areas where May apples bloom, under dogwoods, and… well heck, I have found them in what we jokingly refer to as a ‘lawn’ around my house up here on Lightnin’ Ridge. 

         They grow where nature puts them.  Along small streams I have found them on gravel bars and on a sand bar beneath maple trees.  Those sandbar morels are worthless because there are tiny grains of sand all throughout the indentions and actually inside the meaty part of the mushroom, and you cannot get them out.  When you fry them and bite into one, you are chewing on grains of sand.

         The funny thing about finding morels a little early this spring is that everything that blooms is blooming a little later than usual.  But I am not just going to look for and eat mushrooms around my wooded ridgetop in April.  I will fry up some pokeweed leaves, (only the young small ones) and some cow pasley (parsley to educated folks) lamb’s quarter and crows foot, and make some sweetened sassafras tea out of the roots of small sassafras saplings. If you want to try those plants, look them up on a computer or in a book so you can identify them and learn how to eat them.  If you get ahold of hemlock, which is similar, it can kill you!

         Later in the summer there will be raspberries, and blackberries and mulberries up here within a hundred yards of my home and office, and then in the fall, persimmons, pawpaws, walnuts, and more mushrooms of one type or another.  I built a pond twenty-five years ago to water ridge-top wildlife and it is full of fish and bullfrogs.  All around me there are squirrels, rabbits, quail, turkey and deer.  If the time comes that city supermarkets don’t open or they don’t have food, the natural market allowing survival is right outside the door.  Many country people can say the same thing.

         This week I will eat fried mushrooms until I get sick of them.  And I will give away a bunch as well.  If you want to come and hunt them with me you can, as long as you wear a mask and raincoat and stay 10 feet from me! 

         I might mention that in May and June, when those orange day-lillies are blooming everywhere, that if you collect a bunch of the buds before they bloom, you can roll them in egg and flour and fry them like mushrooms.  Great eating!  They are known by country folks as ‘poor man’s asparagus’. Which means, I guess, that you can fix them like you fix asparagus.  I ain’t never done that… but I may try it this summer.  

         I want to caution prospective mushroom hunters that there is a large rusty-red mushroom known as beef-steak mushrooms that are often found even earlier than morels, and many people slice them and fry them too.  They may be found as big as a basketball and even bigger.  But while some folks eat them with no problem, others get very sick from them.  I don’t know why.  But heck, there are some folks who get sick from eating too many morels, so if  you are a first time mushroom hunter, do this… eat only a small amount of either at first.  Find out if you have a mushroom tolerant system.
 Beefsteak mushroom

                        Beefsteak mushroom
                               at a distance

         Some folks is different than us normal folks, I’ve heered.  I once knew an old boy at the pool hall that got sick ever’time he ate baked ‘possums and another feller who was allergic to peekans and walnuts!!

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