Morel season, here and gone

Morchella Esculenta doesn’t ring out as something tasty enough to fetch more than $350 per pound dried, but call them “hickory chickens” and mouths will water.

 

Black morels are considered to be among the tastiest of the edible mushrooms on Earth and, for some, they rank up there with the best cuts of red meat.

In Alaska morels are mostly found in conifer and hardwood forested areas that have recently burned, but for the last three years Soldotna resident Kenny Bingaman has found them growing in his yard.

“I don’t know where they came from,” he said, while wondering if others in town have found them growing in yards. “They can’t just be at my house.”

Though he’s not sure of how the morel-growing mycelia germinated in his yard, Bingaman knows exactly what to do with them. Lightly butter and fry them, sliced. Once and a while stewed with caribou meat, carrots and onions.

A big, big fan of morels prior to their arrival at his home, Bingaman has gone as far as Tok, in the past, to hunt for them in the remnants of forest fires. That area once drew commercial mushroom hunters by the hundreds.

About 50 each year pop up in Bingaman’s yard and would normally last about two weeks — if he didn’t eat them. Bingaman’s advice for other Kenai Peninsula residents that find the mushroom in their yard this week is water them well the night before you harvest them. More will pop up. Don’t use city water, nothing with chlorine in it, he said.

Bingaman planned to eat his yard harvest Monday night after lightly frying them in butter, but only after waiting for his wife Tina to come home and join him for the feast.

It’s a little bit late for Bingaman’s crop, but the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service says that when air temperatures reach the mid-60s with overnight lows reaching 45 degrees, conditions are good for morels.

According to the Kenai Peninsula Mycological Society local morel hunters look in the burned areas of Caribou Hills and Skilak Lake. Bingaman said he’s had past luck around Tustumena Lake as well.

While the mushroom is delicious enough to fetch hundreds of dollars per pound, someone new to hunting morels should consider a few things; false morels — a morel lookalike that some also consider delicious — can be fatal and you should not eat the real ones raw. Morels contain a small amount of toxin that dissipates when cooked. To differentiate between morels and their potentially deadly doppelganger, unexperienced hunters should consult field guides or go with more experienced mushroomers.

Reach Greg Skinner at greg.skinner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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