by Mollie Rushmeyer
Deer-hunting season isn’t the only anticipated hunting season of the year in Minnesota. For many people, like Mark Christensen, who lives on the border between Sartell and St. Cloud, early to late spring means a whole different hunting experience – morel mushroom-hunting season.
The popularity of foraging for mushrooms and other edible native plants has grown in the last several years, along with more organic, natural eating. However, Christensen said what he loves most about hunting for the elusive morel mushrooms around the St. Cloud area is just the thrill of the hunt. Although morels are Christensen’s favorites, there are other kinds of mushrooms to be found throughout the area even in the fall.
“It’s sort of a treasure hunt,” Christensen said. “And it’s a thrill when you finally find one.”
He maintains though, whether he finds any morels or not, “the journey is better than the destination.”
What started as a love of the outdoors and camping with his father led to meeting other outdoor enthusiasts and to those who introduced Christensen to the world of mushroom hunting. It’s a “sport” in its own right, Christensen said. Soon his father started coming out with him, and then his wife and now his daughter, though he does enjoy getting out on his own, as well. It’s a great stress reliever, he noted.
Christensen said he has amassed plenty of knowledge throughout the years about where to morel-hunt, ideal environmental conditions as well as when to go, mostly through trial and error.
Morel mushrooms have a characteristic “honeycomb” cap with a short, thick stem. The morel season starts in late April in the southern part of Minnesota and goes into the first week of June in the northern parts of the state. But right here in central Minnesota, where Christensen tends to hunt in the St. Joseph, Sartell and St. Cloud areas, early to mid-May is the best time to go. With the spring temperatures still in the upper 40s and 50s at night and reaching into the 70s during the day and the ground generally wet at that time of year – Christensen said those conditions make for the perfect time for hunting morels.
“The morels last as long as the lilacs typically,” Christensen said. “So, if the lilacs are blooming it’s time to go ‘shrooming.’”
As for where he and other morel hunters find these sought-after delicacies, specifics are a no-go.
“It’s kind of comparable to a hunter giving away his favorite hunting spots or a fisherman giving away his favorite fishing hole,” Christensen said. “You’re not going to give away your honey hole.”
However, he said there are some good ways for hunters to know if they’re on the right track – forested areas or spots close to rivers or lakes with wet, loamy soil, near fallen or dead/dying elm trees. There is a symbiotic relationship between the dead trees and the nutrients in the soil around that tree in which the fungi grow. Another area morels love to grow is on freshly burned ground. Black, grey and yellow morels grow in this part of Minnesota and all are edible. Christensen said to watch out for the false morel though, which has a solid stem, unlike the true morels.
“The way I always remember is – if it’s hollow, it’s good to swallow,” Christensen said.
After connecting with other morel hunters, he learned some people bring thermometers to check soil temperatures, which should stay close to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. He also discovered earlier in the season, southern slopes are best for finding morels, and later in the season, northern slopes.
So why such a buzz around these little naturally growing mushrooms? Christensen answered other than the excitement and rush over finding them, it all comes down to the taste.
“They are just the best-tasting wild mushroom,” he said. “They are a good, rich forest mushroom, with a mild to medium flavor. Some people even compare it to the taste of chicken.”
That’s why morel mushrooms can get expensive to purchase, ranging typically from $35 to $50 for one pound of fresh.
After giving friends and family some of his spoils, Christensen said he has some go-to recipes he likes to prepare for his own family. Frying the mushrooms in butter until crisp, mixing them into green-bean casserole and sautéing them with beef tips over rice are among his favorites.
While this was a banner year for Christensen, his personal best, next year he plans to start in the southern part of the state earlier in the season and follow the peak hunting times as they progress up to the northern hunting areas of Minnesota. He said each year he learns more and more and plans to continue challenging himself as he goes.
Rushmeyer grew up in the Brainerd Lakes area then moved to St. Cloud to attend St. Cloud State University, pursuing a degree in community psychology and family dynamics. She now resides in Rice with her husband and their two daughters. Rushmeyer became a freelance reporter/ photographer with the Newsleaders in 2016, but her love of the written word started as a child. When she’s not writing news articles, she blogs, writes flash fiction, short stories and novels. She has been to Europe several times and enjoys travelling, spending time with her family, getting outdoors and reading.