– IMPORTANT NOTICE –
The text on this webpage is as important to your safety as the photographs!
IF IN DOUBT, THROW THE MUSHROOM OUT!
I assume responsibility for the accuracy of information provided at americanmushrooms.com regarding edible wild mushrooms. However, I cannot assume responsibility for the integrity of your use of that information. It is up to you to exercise your own best judgement in the event that you choose to consume wild mushrooms. Specifically, it is encumbent upon you to read all the text presented here that relates to the particular species involved to ensure that you have effectively ruled out dangerous mushrooms. Hurriedly identifying wild mushrooms in hopes of determining that they are edible—especially by quickly matching specimens to photographs without thoroughly reading and understanding the accompanying text—can be FATAL!
Keep in mind that this page includes photographs of poisonous mushrooms which resemble edible species; again, reading the accompanying text and applying that information is absolutely vital!
Note that even with mushrooms that are widely regarded as safe edibles, it is possible for an individual human being to have an allergic reaction to a particular species. It is also possible for illness to result from consuming mushrooms that are decaying, contaminated by pollution, or otherwise not in good condition. Before perusing the section of this Webpage that presents photographs of and text about edible wild mushrooms (and some of their toxic "look-alikes"!), you must read "The Mycophagist's Ten Commandments," which explains several hazards and provides advice on how to avoid those hazards.
THE YELLOW MOREL
Also known as the Common Morel, Spongy, and Land Fish
Slightly less than life size
The Morel mushroom, especially the Yellow Morel (Morchella esculenta) is not just my personal favorite; it's the favorite of millions of American mushroomers, many of whom scarcely know a thing about any other kinds of edible wild mushrooms except for morels. The flavor of morels is wonderful and strong and absolutely beyond comparison to any other food, fungal or otherwise, and morel mushrooms' texture is very unusual if not unique.
I have long supposed that those who don't know about morel mushrooms would be very unlikely to suspect such odd-looking fungi to be popular edibles. Those of us who know morels are just fine with that, as we don't want any more competitors in the annual hunt for the springtime delicacy we call the morel. The Yellow Morel is sometimes called the "Common Morel," but for many of us, it's not really much more common than a hen's tooth. We have to spend a lot of time looking before we find a good patch, and then we regard the location as top-secret. Those of us who, over a period years, have accumulated several good patches tend to smile an awful lot during spring.
Morels are especially frequent under/around dead and dying elm trees, dead and dying apple trees (old, overgrown orchards where the trees are mostly dead or dying can be great locations!), and big, healthy ash or tuliptrees. They're especially abundant in areas where there is exposed limestone. In some areas they are found with pine, cottonwood, poplar, oak or any number of other trees. The most incredible fruitings occur in the Rocky Mountains and westward the spring following a forest fire where large stands of timber burned.
The Yellow Morel is one of the most distinctive edible wild mushrooms: the cap looks distinctly honeycombed, with pits surrounded by ridges, and the entire mushroom is hollow, with a single chamber extending from top to bottom. There are a few mushrooms that vaguely resemble morels that are poisonous—and which coincidentally also fruit during springtime—but the resemblance is slight. (The most notable examples are the so-called "False Morels" of genus Gyromitra [see photo, above right].)
As always with wild mushrooms: If in doubt, throw it out!
Tiny specimens of Morchella esculenta. These babies are each about 1" tall.
The fact that morels fruit only in the springtime (in temperate climates, at least) probably is a big factor in their impressive popularity: After a long, cold winter with no wild mushrooms to be found, the annual mushroom season starts off with a real bang as folks scour the countryside in search of these delicious treasures. In Michigan, Illinois and Missouri, there are annual mushroom festivals—not during late summer or autumn when the greatest variety and abundance of edible wild mushrooms can be found, but during morel season.
There are two other kinds of morels in North America: the Black Morel (M. elata/M. conica/M. angusticeps, see photo, right) and the "Half-free" Morel (M. semilibera, see photos, left) and those are both edible too. (When judged by those of us who have tried all three, the Yellows generally win the blue ribbon for flavor.) IMPORTANT NOTE: I strongly recommend that you consult Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America or another authoritative source for information on the so-called "Early Morel" (Verpa bohemica), which is poisonous, before enjoying the Half-free Morel, because the resemblance between those two can be significant.
It is vital that morels be cooked thoroughly; eating raw morels consistently leads to sickness, as in the infamous case of a restaurant in the Pacific Northwest where, some years ago, an ignorant chef served raw morels and dozens of patrons took ill! Some mushrooms do better in olive oil than butter, but morels demand butter. Their strong flavor stands up well, so many recipes call for using leeks or ramps, which can often be found near the morel patch. My favorite recipe is scallops and morels with garlic, served over pasta or a really good toasted bread, and shared with my good friend Bob Schilkie after a successful late-May morel hunt in upstate New York.
Morels are often dried for future use, but when I have enough to save some, I prefer to fresh-freeze them. The magic trick with fresh-frozen mushrooms is this: Never thaw frozen mushrooms, or they'll gelatinize into a mushy mess… get the butter or oil hot in the cooking pan before you even take the mushrooms out of the freezer!
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