Morels are America’s mushroom, more so than any other. It may be because morel mushrooms are widespread, they’re easy to identify, and they come up in the spring, giving people a reason to get out and enjoy warm weather after a long winter. Or, it could be they’re popular simply because they taste so good. Morels are so prized they sell for up to $20 a pound in grocery stores where I live.
Please note that although morels are easy to identify, this a hunting guide—not a field guide. If you have any doubt about a mushroom, don’t keep it—and definitely don’t eat it . Now that that’s out of the way, here’s a beginner’s guide on where to find morel mushrooms.
How to Identify a Safe Morel from a False Morel
Here are two morels in the wild. In the photo above, notice the pits, the distinctive conical shape, and the way the bottom of the cap (the pitted part) is attached near the bottom of the stem.
Avoid the half-free morel, shown in the photo below, which has a longer stem and a cap that attaches near the top, looking like an umbrella. And notice that it lacks the cone shape of the real thing, and has wrinkles, not pits, on its cap. These mushrooms can cause some people to have cramps or other forms of gastrointestinal distress.
Read Next: 5 Tips for Cooking and Cleaning Morels
Where to Find Morel Mushrooms
Morels live in and on the edge of forested areas. Look for ash, aspen, elm, and oak trees, around which morels often grow. Early in the spring as the ground is warming, you’ll find them on south-facing slopes in fairly open areas. As the season progresses, go deeper into the woods and onto north-facing slopes.
Morels often grow around dead and dying trees. Old apple orchards make good hunting grounds. Always look around dead elm trees. When a tree reaches the stage of decay where its bark is slipping off its trunk, you’ll often find lots of morels around it.
Well-drained, sandy soils like the creek bottom shown in the photo above make good hunting spots as well. You’ll find the first morels of the year when daytime highs reach the 60s and lows stay above 40 degrees.
Beginner Advice for Morel Mushroom Hunting
Hunting morels is like bass fishing. You cover ground until you find one, then slow down and search the area carefully. Concentrate the rest of your hunt on similar areas, on the theory that you’ve found the “pattern” for the day.
Early on in morel mushroom season, the first morels are small and it takes quite a few to make a meal. As the season progresses you find bigger, yellow morels. They taste just as good as the smaller ones, they’re easier to spot, and it doesn’t take as many to feed a hungry hunter.
Quick Tips for Cooking Morel Mushrooms
Before you cook your harvest of morels, you need to clean them. Soaking morels in water for a couple of hours cleans them and washes out any bugs living inside the hallow mushrooms. Some mushroom foragers slice them in half lengthwise for a more thorough cleaning, but that’s not necessary.
There are lots of great ways to cook morel mushrooms, but if you’re new to cooking morels, you can’t beat sautéing them in butter. Cooking morels in butter brings out their rich, almost meaty, flavor. If you don’t have very many morels, I recommend scrambling them into eggs with some tarragon. But if you get a big haul of mushrooms, the perfect spring feast is to serve the morels alongside slices of wild turkey breast or some crappie fillets.