May is morel season - Michigan morel festivals and where to find these tasty mushrooms
Mark Bialek for AnnArbor.com
Some woodland mushrooms can be poisonous. Morels are relatively easy to identify with a competent guide, but if you have never seen one before, don't pick and eat something you can't be sure about.
You should familiarize yourself with the False morel, Gyromitra esculenta, as described in this account from the website The Great Morel. The Mykoweb description of the false morel warns of a volatile toxin, monomethylhydrazine, which is contained in this mushroom.
If you don't know what it is, don't pick it and don't eat it.
Where to pick locally
The best place to find morels locally is [redacted].
Mike Gould's 2007 Ann Arbor Observer story Roonquest describes an annual morel hunting expedition up north; the only geography hint he gives is that it's relatively close to Charlevoix.
A 2008 Ann Arbor News story described a morel hunt in Bird Hils Nature Area, where one mushroom hunter found 99 morels near a stand of dead elms and everyone else found only a few.
The Morel Mushrooms pool on Flickr has a map, but I'll bet you dollars to donuts that no one is too precise about where they describe where the mushrooms are. Another good Flickr search to do is for Michigan morel, where there are hundreds of photos.
Study the morel photos for details of the surrounding habitat. If you find a part of the world that supports May apples, it's likely to be suitable for morels. A long list of morel habitats is perhaps more confusing than useful, but it gives you some ideas.
Note that former burn sites are typically good for morel hunting. A year after the Sleeper Lake Fire in the Newberry area in the Upper Peninsula, lucky mushroom hunters were pulling out 80 pounds at a time and selling them for cash to dealers who had set up at the highway at the edge of the woods.
The 51st annual Mesick Mushroom Festival is May 7-9 in Mesick, about 4 hours north of Ann Arbor between Cadillac and Traverse City on M-115. A $6 mushroom picker's kit gives a map of local picking locations and a mesh bag to hold your catch in so that the spores from the morels you pick are released to create new hunting grounds.
The Ann Arbor Railroad ran through Mesick on its way to the car ferries at Frankfort; this set of photos shows an old rail bridge over the Manistee River that was part of the Ann Arbor Railroad line.
The 50th Annual National Morel Mushroom Festival in Boyne CityÂ runs from May 13-16. TheÂ festival brochure (pdf) tells the story, and while you are at the site, listen to the song "The Mushroomer's Waltz" which tells you precisely what sorts of locations are good to go picking.
Books on morel picking
The University of Michigan Press has a book out titled "How to Find Morels," by Milan Pelouch, recipes by Lila Pelouch - which tells all:
"While many morel fans remain tight lipped about their favorite subject, in How to Find Morels author Milan Pelouch freely shares everything he's learned during his years of morel hunting. The book covers all aspects of finding and eating morels: identification of true and false morels; what to wear (and not to wear) and take with you on mushroom hunts; when to search for morels; the best places to look for them; cleaning and preservation methods; and, of course, delicious recipes using morels in dozens of different dishes, from soups to entrÃ©es. Although the author's preferred hunting area is northern Michigan, his tips can be used in any location in the United States."
Joining in the hunt
The Michigan Mushroom Hunters organizes mushroom hunts statewide. Join this group's public events list to go looking through the woods for fungi, knowing that you will have experts on hand to help you identify your catch.
The next upcoming event in the area is on Saturday, May 15 at 9 a.m., when leader Phil Tedeschi will organize a hunt at Barton Dam. Contact Phil at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-355-0359 for more details. A complete list of public mushroom hunting events shows events open to the public, and if you join the group there are additional outings open.
Edward Vielmetti walks through the woods for AnnArbor.com. Contact him at email@example.com.Â