There’s Gold in Them Hills
By: Travis Smith
Wildlife/ Forestry Specialist Guernsey Soil & Water Conservation District
t’s spring time again, and although mother nature is reluctant to release us from her grasp of a brutal winter; soon the temperatures will be warming and the ground thawing. This can only mean one thing. It’s time to grab your shovel, get your gold pan; set up the sluice box, “there is gold in them hills”! OK . . . not so fast, we live in Ohio not the Klondike, right?? So what on earth am I talking about? I am referring to the type of gold that does not require a metal detector to find. It can be lucrative, but it will never make you rich. Its whereabouts are as secretively guarded as the Lost Dutchman’s mine and it can only be found in relative abundance in Ohio a few weeks of the year. This type of prospecting will require you to trade in the shovel for a good walking stick, your gold pan for some hiking boots, and your sluice box for an old onion sack. For those who may have figured it out and for those who have not, spring time in Ohio can only mean one thing; its morel season again!!!!
The morel mushroom (Morchella esculentoides) belongs to the genus Morchella as they are part of the "True Morels”. The "True Morels" are classified as choice edible. They have a distinct appearance of a sponge or honeycomb-like upper portion that features a network of ridges and fissures as seen in the photo above. Numerous Species of morels exist throughout Ohio, the United States and even around the world. However, physically differentiating many of these species is impossible and can only be achieved through DNA testing. In short, if it is a true morel; break out the butter and frying pan; it’s going to be delicious! So for the sake of argument and morel purest I apologize, the three varieties of true morels found in Ohio are commonly referred to as “Blacks”, “Grays” and “Yellows”. The black morels are the first of the season to arrive. They can be the most difficult to find, simply because their dark color and smaller size make them extremely camouflaged among the leaf litter. As the season progresses, grays (my favorite to eat) will be the next to immerge, subsequently followed by the yellows. Yellow morels are in fact the same species of morel as the gray, which only appear much different as they mature. Morels can be found in Southeastern Ohio for a relatively short time period. The time frame occurs in the early spring months, typically late March-Mid May, based on ground temperature and precipitation.
Now, the million dollar question; how to find morel mushrooms? It’s easy, the ONE and ONLY thing you need to do to find morel mushrooms is . . . I got you didn’t I? You really thought there was an answer to that question? I read an interesting quote about the morel hunting that went something like this; “The morel mushroom is a fungus that grows in pretty good quantities, except in the places in which I happen to be looking”. Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time hunting for morels has felt some semblance of that quote. The truth is, there is no one true method to finding morel mushrooms. In fact, most avid morel hunters have their own personal set of thoughts, logic, notions, beliefs, hunches, clues, tactics, magic, or voodoo, they use to garner their success. However, the best piece of advice that was passed down from my grandpa to me that I am willing t share with you is simply this; you can’t find morels from the couch, so go hunting!
So whether you are a beginner and would like to learn more about the many mysteries of morel hunting, or a seasoned hunter wanting to learn a trick or two, join the Guernsey Soil and Water Conservation District for our first annual morel mushroom and wild edibles showcase. GSWCD is teaming up with the people from Deerassic Park Education Center to bring you a morel mushroom and wild edibles showcase. Come and learn tricks and tips from Wildlife/Forestry Specialist and avid mushroom hunter Travis Smith, and professional mushroom cultivar Jeff Wilkinson. The showcase will highlight how to successfully and safely locate and identify the morel mushroom, as well as other wild delicacies including: chanterelle mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, chicken mushrooms, fiddle head ferns, and many others. Jeff Wilkinson will be performing a demonstration and will have kits available to purchase for cultivating your own oyster and shiitake mushrooms. The Guernsey County Master Gardeners Association will be preparing dishes of various wild edibles for your taste buds delight. So shake off the druthers of a long hard winter and join us for an evening of morel mushrooms and wild edibles. The showcase will be held Monday April 28, 2014 from 6pm-8pm at the Deerassic Park Educational Center 14250 Cadiz Rd, Cambridge, Ohio 43725, just a quarter mile before the main entrance to Salt fork State Park headed east on SR22. To register call Travis Smith at the GSWCD office (740) 432-5624. Hope to see you there.