Self-proclaimed novice mushroom hunters, Tim and Lisa Litt have been foraging together since they met in 2003. Tim began his foraging adventures in the early to mid-1980s when his parents would take him hunting for morel mushrooms around Buffalo River State Park.
“I remember that we would have pretty good luck sometimes, and not so good luck other times. I can say for certain that this still holds true,” Tim shared. “On a good year of morel hunting, we may harvest enough to dry, and that can get us through the years when we don’t find any morels.”
Morel mushrooms are one of the most sought after delicacies in the regional foraging community. This is true for the Litts, who specifically seek out morels but will not pass up the opportunity to harvest other finds, such as chanterelles, hen-of-the-woods, puffballs, fiddlehead ferns, wild asparagus, wild grapes, wild ginseng or ramps.
“Our knowledge of the woods is growing as we learn more,” explained Tim. “You want to be cautious when foraging, and the best way to learn is from someone who really knows what they are doing.”
A lot of the Litts’ knowledge stem from many years of wandering in the woods with various people who are willing to share their foraging knowledge and experience, of which the Litts consider themselves lucky. Knowing what to wear, proper choice of knife and carrying vessels, obtaining a good identification book and finally, bringing someone with knowledge of foraging, are all important aspects a new forager should consider carefully. Then simply start walking through the woods foraging.
“Finding, harvesting, and eating wild mushrooms, or for that matter anything that you can forage from the land, is extremely rewarding,” Tim shared, recalling a span of a couple of years the Litts were joined by their two sons and family friends foraging a friend’s property during morel season. “There really is nothing better than families getting together in the woods on a successful morel hunt!”
Something to keep in mind is that while more experienced foragers are generally willing to share their knowledge and accompany new foragers as they begin their adventure, they may not be willing to share their own hunting spots. It is best to have a hunting location determined before reaching out for help; then the rubber boots, bug spray, onion bags and mushroom knives can make an appearance.
Specific to morels, the Litts shared a few tips for the up-and-coming forager:
• In Minnesota, morels like to come out when the day temps are in the 60s or above, and the evening temps are between 40-50 degrees. The soil temp when they start to pop up is around 45-50 degrees. Watch for oak buds to be the size of mouse ears as that has is good indicator to start foraging.
• Make sure the mushroom is hollow from the stem to the tip of the cap and not solid. There are a few types of mushrooms that look somewhat like a morel, but those varieties would not have the hollow stem. There would be a cotton-like fluff filling the stem. They also do not have the distinctive morel smell.
• The diversity of where to find morels is surprising, but in general they like south-facing hillsides, the top of sunny hills, and around dead trees, especially elms. It is also common for them to grow in old apple orchards, in sandy river bottoms, by railroad tracks, around deer paths, cow pastures, near shrubs, and under aspen, oak, beech, maple, cottonwood, cherry and even pines. They also are prevalent on land that was burned within the past few years.