This spring has had some rain, but not a lot. But enough to keep the woods from being tinder dry. There have been a couple of forest fires, but because it’s really only semi-dry, the fire suppression folks have had an easy time of stomping out wildfires. While wildfires are scary (I live in the woods), they are actually a good thing in the boreal forest – fire are in fact necessary to renew these northern forests and without fire, the boreal turns into a mess.
One other good things about having enough moisture, is that it allows mushrooms to sprout. Mushrooms are a delicacy for many – I love them – and spring is the only time in the boreal forest one can find the true morels, which are said to be “probably the best known and most sought after of all the edible fungi”. Morels are actually widespread in their distribution and are found far south of here, and can be far more abundant in those much richer forest ecozones. Still, they do occur here, and for that I’m grateful.
On the weekend, I checked one of my favourite shroom spots and was rewarded with a bountiful harvest of more than 40 black morels, Morchella angusticeps. That might not sound like a lot for areas where morels are common, but that’s a good haul in this neck of the woods. It’s partly because where I live, the forests have a lot of conifer trees, and morels seem to prefer almost pure stands of poplar or ash and occasionally oak (oaks stands are anything but common here). In addition, those stands need to have very little in the way of grasses or shrubbery on the forest floor – plus – the best poplar stands seem to be between 10 and 20 years old. All in all, it’s not only a chore to find those forest types, the morel picking season is limited to a couple of weeks. All the more reason to cherish almost every mushroom.
True morels are rather easy to identify as there are only a few varieties and they all look similar. People with poor taxonomic skills, or who can’t seem to grasp detail, should avoid mushrooms, as many can make you ill, some can cause hallucinations and others can actually kill you. Some species, like the false morels, which as you might have guessed look somewhat similar to true morels, can be eaten by some individuals, but others not at all. Even the toxins that can dwell in the false morels and other mushrooms aren’t completely understood. Worst of all, some people have mushroom allergies, and can’t really eat any mushroom without experiencing at least some discomfort. That’s the case with my spouse Lil, and some of her siblings.
When I was in university, a good friend – ‘Wild Bill’ – didn’t show up for three days. He’d spent time in a ditch watching cars go by after nibbling on some amanitas, a very dangerous and hallucinogenic shroom.
Another time, I was hunting turkeys in Wisconsin in May and the morels were out in force. The only place they seemed to be was wherever an American elm had died due to Dutch elm disease and the tree had fallen to the ground. Those morels, growing amongst the downed and decaying branches of the elms, were gigantic! A single morel was all I could hold in my hand. We sliced them up and fried them in a pancake mix. Delicious!
This was a good spring for me, known in early university days as the ‘fungi hunting Finn.’ I hope the rest of the year brings more shroom bounty.