It’s Morel Season by Joe McFarland

It’s finally morel mushroom season in southern Illinois where I live, which means, for these few weeks, I will be everybody’s total best friend. By August, I will be that local stranger again, that odd guy who spends a lot of time in the woods examining mushrooms that are not morel mushrooms.

Morels, of course, are the only mushrooms that matter to a lot of people. Thousands of Illinois residents storm the woods each year to find morels, and, while some morel hunters are quite good at finding these sponge-capped treasures, many others rarely find any.

Sadly, spring is the only time morels can be found. Knowing where to find this most popular wild mushroom in Illinois makes a person everybody’s best friend.

“Where can I find morels?” strangers ask me. They don’t always know me very well. They call me “that mushroom guy,” the local who knows enough about wild mushrooms to make these life-or-death decisions, including the decision of where to go hunting for morels. I usually smile kindly and shrug. “Morels are out there,” I often say. “You just have to find them.”

I know it’s an unsatisfying answer for these people, a vague scripture from an evasive leader. It’s not what people want to hear. What people want is plain, simple instructions to go directly to a place where they can find morel mushrooms, like one receives directions to a grocery store—just follow the directions, turn left or right, there you are. Pull into the parking lot. Load up. Morel hunting isn’t like that.

Recently a friend confessed to me: “I have come to the realization that what I really like is picking the morels,” she wrote while making a point. “Eating them is overrated; the true pleasure is definitely in picking them.”

Of course. When one is eating morels one is simply eating. And eating is great. Great food can really knock us out of our chair when it hits us. But eating mushrooms is only the finale to a deeper pleasure. When we are on our knees in the forest, collecting mushrooms, adding them to a pile, we are actually doing what people have been doing for thousands of years. Foraging for food is as ancient as anything we do. It’s as natural as we can be. I often say I enjoy doing what people have been doing for a long time. And my friend is right: There is nothing better than to be in the woods, foraging for food, participating in nature.

It’s a perfectly natural choice.


Joe McFarland is a staff writer for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources magazine Outdoor Illinois and co-author of the new book Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois and Surrounding States. He lives in Makanda, Illinois.

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