Open season on mushrooms

Hunters out to bag spring delicacy report abundance of morels this year

Small gray morels were found in early April, as temperatures in the 50s marked the start of the season. As the weather warms the mushrooms get bigger and take on a brown color; morels are now measuring 5 to 7 inches.

Joe Thomas and his son Joseph, from St. Joseph, Mo., show off the morels they collected in an hour and a half along the Kansas River northeast of Lawrence. The Thomases spent Sunday morning hunting in an area where Joe learned from a relative how to find the tasty treat.

Local morel hunters are reporting a bumper crop of the highly coveted mushrooms.

“This promises to be probably one of the best morel seasons we’ve had in a number of years,” said Ron Meyers, a longtime morel hunter who scooped up 150 during a recent outing.

Hunters are scrambling to the woods with the fervor of a gold rush these days where moisture-rich weather and agreeable temperatures have meant they can strike it rich in fungus.

And hungry buyers are gobbling up all they can find from some local sellers.

John Pendleton, of Pendleton’s Country Market, 1446 E. 1850 Road, said reports of morels going to $80 per pound in Kansas City spurred a rush on the market’s $25 per pound stock last weekend. By shortly after noon Saturday, the morels were sold out. The market was expecting more in Monday afternoon.

“People who like them really, really like them,” Pendleton said.

The beloved mushrooms can be found in woody areas. Seasoned hunters say the banks of the Kaw and the Wakarusa rivers are good, but few will reveal exactly where they go.

Bob Bruce, Lawrence resident and president of the Kaw Valley Mycological Society, said he’s been having luck along the Kaw.

“I’ve been searching there for two weeks, and I’ve been finding them every time I go,” he said.

Bruce suggested searching near the water and moving up the slope. At this point – roughly midway through the season – hunters may have more luck on the tops of hills, he said.

Once gathered, there are innumerable ways to enjoy morels.

“They’re very delicious,” hunter Sherry Kay said. “They don’t taste like mushrooms. They taste like morels.”

There are recipes for morel soup, morel sauces and morel tarts. The relatively high-fat, and beloved, dish of fried morels is also popular. The recipe is relatively simple: roll the mushrooms in egg and flour, then fry.

“They’re scrumptiously good that way,” Meyers said. “They’re also scrumptiously unhealthy that way.”