By Tom Nauman
I heard a great story last spring and I have to give credit to Conel Rogers from Pike County for relaying to me. There are several known methods of morel hunting. I prefer the "deep woods" method where one packs a lunch, a couple of water bottles, compass, etc. and spends all day on the search. An alternative method is called "Road Hunting" which is looking for appropriate dead elms from the pick-up truck. When one is spotted you stop the truck and go check it out. I can't condone this method because if the landowner is also a morel hunter you may find the local law enforcement officials waiting for your return to the vehicle. (In one case the vehicle had been towed and its owner had to walk six miles to retrieve it, pay the towing fee, and then appear in court to face criminal trespass charges!).
Conel says the dead elms are rated according to the speed of the vehicle at which the tree can be spotted. A 65 m.p.h. tree is either right next to the road or so obvious to be a prime mushroom site that you can detect it at 65 m.p.h. (What speed limit?) Anyway, the legend goes that a mushroom hunter (it might even have been Conel) brought his pick-up to a screeching halt after spying a 65 m.p.h. tree, and ran over to check it out. Looking down at the ground he realized someone had beat him to the bounty because all he found was mushroom stumps. It was in his disappointment that he noticed a sign stapled to the tree that read: "You are the 34th person to check this tree. Please sign you name at the bottom and add one to the number above". After laughingly complying with the instructions on the note he returned to the truck and noticed the road had been blackened by skid marks. He didn't count them but there must have been at least enough for 33 other road hunters.
We are now in the middle of Illinois "second season " for mushrooms. The preferred mushroom is the hen-of-the-woods (grifolia frondosa). Otherwise known as: quarene, sheep's head, or maitake; the hen-of-the-Woods can grow to be 100 pounds and has smoky gray to brown topped fan-shaped petals all fused at the base to a massive fleshy stalk. It grows typically at the base of oak trees or any hardwood. It seems to favor scars where lightning has bared the wood of the tree. From a distance it appears to be a hen nesting with feathers ruffled. They can be difficult to clean because there are so many crevices and folds for debris to hide in. One method suggested to us this week was to rinse them with the kitchen sink spray attachment or a hand held shower head.
Another choice mushroom currently making appearances in a timber near you is the sulphur shelf (laetiporus sulphureus) or chicken mushroom. It doesn't have to be in a timber but it sounded good. It is a bracket fungi in that it appears to be shelves on a tree, stump, or log. It always grows from wood. If you find one growing in dirt, inspect a little further and you'll find a buried log. If not, you've got the wrong mushroom. The top of the shelves are bright orange and the underside is sulfur yellow and has no poisonous look-alikes. Because of their bright colors most of them can be spotted at 65 m.p.h. also. Well, maybe 55 m.p.h.
There seems to be an abundance of giant puffballs (calvatia gigantea) this season. We measured one found by our nephew, Lee Marliere of rural Magnolia, at 21 inches in diameter. These resemble a volleyball in size shape and color. When sliced, the fresh ones are pure white inside. If they've started to turn yellow or green or are powdery, they are beyond the edible stage.
Remember, whenever you want to try eating a mushroom you're not familiar with, check it in at least two field guides. If they say it's edible, try just a nibble, wait 24 hours, and if there are no ill effects then consume larger amounts.
Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, RR1 - Box 42, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960.