MORELS (Morchella spp.)

Description: Sponge, pine cone and honeycomb mushroom--the nicknames of the morel--are all appropriate. Morels are easy to recognize and delicious to eat, making them the most popular wild mushroom in Missouri.
The surface of a morel is covered with definite pits and ridges, and the bottom edge of the cap is attached directly to the stem. Size: 2 to 12 inches tall.
There are three common species of morels:
1. The common morel (Morchella esculenta): When young, this species has white ridges and dark brown pits and is known as the "white morel." As it ages, both the ridges and the pits turn yellowish brown, and it becomes a "yellow morel." If conditions are right the "yellow morel" can grow into a "giant morel," which may be up to a foot tall.
2. The black morel or smoky morel (Morchella elata): The ridges are gray or tan when young, but darken with age until nearly black. The pits are brown and elongated. These morels are best when picked young; discard any that are shrunken or have completely black heads.
3. The half-free morel (Morchella semilibera): This is the exception to the rule that morels have the bottom of the cap attached directly to the stem. The cap of the half-free morel is attached at about the middle (see illustration). These morels have small caps and long bulbous stems.
When and Where: From spring to early summer. Morels are found on the ground in a variety of habitats, including moist woodlands and in river bottoms.
Cautions: Morels have been known to cause mild poisoning symptoms when consumed with alcohol. Morels are quite distinctive, but there is a small chance they could be confused with false morels. See the poisonous mushroom page for ways to distinguish true morels from false morels.
Half-free morels may be confused with a mushroom called the wrinkled thimble cap (Verpa bohemica). Fortunately, this mushroom is also edible in moderation. The cap of the wrinkled thimble cap is free from the stem except at the top (see illustration).
Cooking Hints: Cut morels in half to check for insects. Wash carefully. Morels can be breaded and fried, stewed, baked, creamed or stuffed with dressing. Their delicate flavor is brought out best by sauteing them in butter for about five minutes on each side. 

Leave a Reply