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Idaho's Food Scene

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Hunting the elusive morel

Meet me where the sun doesn’t shine. In spring, I’ll be 3,000 feet up, popping my wrinkled head out of soil that’s just right. By July, strap on your hiking boots and hasten the chase; I’ll be 10,000 feet up, hiding among the pine needles. Unless, of course, I just don’t feel like it.

Thus speaks the mysterious morel. For Idaho’s eager mushroom hunters, the morel provides one of nature’s ultimate scavenger hunts, a quest that can start in Boise and finish three months later, panting and tired, in the Sawtooth’s alpine lakes. Now that is an epic fungus hunt.

Kathy Richmond, of the Southern Idaho Mycological Association, has some advice. “Shady areas on north or east facing slopes are good starting places,” she said. “The first year after a forest fire will create a flush of morels, but that will drop off precipitously the following years as the soil’s nutrients will be largely used up.” Richmond has found morels where the water meets sand along the Salmon River and in various spots along the Big Wood River. But morels are happiest amid wood debris and trees, which means a new layer of mulch around a downtown apartment complex may yield surprises.

Those curious souls who love being outside and getting filthy should begin hunting in the south Wood River Valley in late May, especially after a rainfall. With eyes earthward, you may look up at some point and realize you are completely lost. Recruit a partner and identify landmarks, or maybe work on your whistling. You won’t want to be lost in the woods with nothing but your stash of raw mushrooms for sustenance; morels should always be cooked.

For Idaho’s eager mushroom hunters, the morel provides one of nature’s ultimate scavenger hunts.

Richmond said hunters should learn to distinguish between blond and black edible varieties (Morchella esculenta and Morchella elata, respectively), as well as false morels, which can accumulate dangerous toxins in the human body. For the novice hunter, she recommended hauling along a copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms.

Complete your morel spirit quest by cooking and devouring these earthy delights. Rise them thoroughly first and, if you have a real bounty, try drying them. Some morel fans believe that dehydrated morels are even more flavorful.

-Lynea Newcomer





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