It’s a personal quest that draws Steve Cowen into the woods every spring. He’s not alone. Finding the elusive morel mushroom is a bit of an obsession for many in the Ozarks. Read on, for morel-finding tips from a (practically professional) life-long hunter.
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417 Magazine: How did you get involved in morel mushroom-hunting?
Steve Cowen: I was about 10 or 12 years old. Some friends of mine in a little town where I lived near Peoria, Illinois took me out mushroom-huntin’ and sent me home with a few. My parents, of course, had raised eyebrows, but they called my friend’s parents, and they got a verification that these things were okay to eat. Mom and Dad liked ’em and, of course, I did too. And that’s what started it.
417: Can you share any tips on finding morels?
S.C.: The first couple of years after an elm tree dies when the bark’s about half off of ’em is when they seem to produce morels. Once they’ve been dead long enough for all the bark to come off, there won’t be any more. Also, sycamores seem to have something to do with it. I look for big sycamore trees.
417: How long is the season?
S.C.: The black morels, the last couple weeks of March and maybe a little into April. The yellow ones pretty much when that one ends. The moisture is really the key, and 60-, 65-degree weather.
417: How do you tell a morel from another mushroom?
S.C.: They have a hollow stem. They resemble a sponge, and I think that’s why they have that nickname in places: a “sponge mushroom.” There’s really nothing else that is out there that looks like them.
417: What makes the morel mushroom better than what you’d find in the store?
S.C.: I don’t know. It’s like an Easter egg hunt, just the excitement of finding them. Almost every spring I dream about finding them. It gets to be kind of a passion.
417: So it’s not so much about the taste of the mushroom?
S.C.: No, it’s the taste. I mean they’re as good as they come, in my opinion. And they have a good texture. I have always cooked them.
417: Do you have any tips for cooking fresh morel mushrooms?
S.C.: Slice them, and soak them for half an hour in saltwater. Then rinse them off, and dip them in scrambled-up egg and then cracker crumbs, and fry ’em. It’s not the best thing for you health-wise, but they sure taste good.