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The morel code: tips from a mushroom hunting nun

Morel mushroom photo
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Exploring the woods of Michigan for morel mushrooms is an annual ritual for some Michiganders.

It's time to head out in search of morel mushrooms in Michigan. Current State talks with Sister Marie Kopin of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club.

It’s almost hunting season.

For morels, that is. 

The spring mushroom has become a favorite of professional chefs, and chances are good you’ll see it making an appearance at your favorite farm-to-table restaurants soon. But you don’t need to shell out $40 a pound or book a reservation at a fancy restaurant to enjoy some morels this spring. You just have to know what to look for.

Current State talked with Sister Marie Kopin, secretary for the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club, about how to forage for this natural delicacy.

“I like to call it ‘Getting your morel eyes every spring’,” says Kopin. “Because the morels will blend in with the brown, leftover material on the ground from the year before.”

Morels are typically a brown color but can also be shades of white and yellow. Kopin describes them as looking like an ear of corn after you take the kernels out of it.

“It’s got little pockets in it, and sort of looks like an ice cream cone,” says Kopin.

So, how do you know you’re looking in the right places for morel mushrooms? Kopin says morels have an affinity for certain species of trees in Michigan.

“The base of the morel is sort of like a big root – you don’t see it,” says Kopin. 

“The root has a partnership-type relationship with certain species of trees. They like the ash and elm trees here in Michigan”

Areas with the least amount of development typically see the most morels, according to Kopin. However, even those living in urban places without any forests can enjoy morels.

“There is a kit you can buy online to grow them in your yard,” says Kopin. “Or if you brought some morels home, you could disperse the spores in your backyard soil.”

Watch out for imposters when hunting for morel mushrooms, though.

“There is a false morel out there that is not genetically identical,” says Kopin.

“This mushroom has monopropellant hydrazine in it, which is also used in rocket fuel.”

Debate remains over specific health concerns from this particular mushroom – commonly called the beefsteak. Recent research has shown a link between its consumption and higher cancer rates, according to Kopin. They are considered highly poisonous and should not be eaten.

As to the best places in Michigan to find morels?  

“There was a fellow named Larry Lonik who wrote a book about morels,” says Kopin.

“At the very end he says ‘Morels are where you find them.”

Article by Ethan Merrill, Current State Intern 

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