ARTICLE: STALKING THE WILD MUSHROOM by Jerry Ison
"Hey, Virgil! How much farther do we have to go? I'm gettin' winded!"
"Heck you're thirty years younger 'n me! You oughta be able to keep up with an old man! Besides, it's only 'bout another mile or so. Just up over that ridge, then a little ways on."
The way Virgil had led me out here into the back country of Anderson County one may have thought we were on an illegal mission. He first had me drive away from our destination for several miles then circle back the long, or should I say the longest way around. We then parked the car off the road in as secluded an area as was available. We had taken my car because Virgil " 'spected none of them rascals" he was avoiding would recognize it. Leaving the car we entered the brush, and after several hundred yards, circled back until we again crossed the road and finally, towards the secret place.
No, we weren't checking on a gold deposit, nor were on some dark covert operation for a shadowy agency. We were going to Vigil's perennial mushroom patch. That's right, wild mushrooms, morels.
Every spring hundreds of folks head out into the woods and along the streams, open areas, wherever they suspect these delicious and elusive fungi may grow. The morel is sometimes known as the sponge mushroom or, possibly because of its delicate flavor, the "dry-land fish". There are at least four varieties, all edible and all delicious.
There are several mushrooms that resemble the morel but the true morels are indeed the best known and most sought after edible fungi. All the species of morel fruit in the spring and all are edible and delicious. The scientific name for this family of fungi is Morchella. The scientific name for this plant gives away the fact that these mushrooms are indeed highly regarded. The most sought after and most highly prized morels are the Morchella deliciousa. I'm not making that up. That is the name learned scientists have given this elusive fungi.
The only place this plant can be found is in the wild. While many attempts have been made to produce the mushroom commercially, and spores have been successfully germinated, no one has succeeded so far. For that reason, whenever these rare treats appear on a restaurant menu, they command a very high price - ten to twenty times that of the best steak, ounce for ounce.
These fungi fruit for a brief period in the spring and in areas that seemingly are disparate. When one is found, however, there are usually numerous others in the immediate area. They also tend to reappear in the same location year after year, the reason secret 'shroom plots are so jealously guarded.
Just ahead, I heard Virgil let out a loud curse. Followed be a stream of invectives and then a tone of resignation.
"Well I'll be danged! Looks like some low down dirty dawg has done beat us to the 'shrooms! See where they stirred up the leaves and such."
"How do you suppose anyone was able to find your secret path after all the precautions you take, Virgil?"
"Well, I reckon they done it same way I did, follered somebody what knew for four or five seasons, how else?"
Giving Up Secrets
Unlike Virgil and others of the same ilk, and because I'm such a nice guy, I intend to share the location of two of my most secret, and most productive 'shroom patches. Being the eternal optimist, I visited one this weekend. I knew going out the morels wouldn't be up yet, but the weather was great and it was as good an excuse as any to get out.
Sure enough, there were no morels, but the bloodroot was in full bloom. I also spotted some spring beauties, trout lilies (not in bloom yet) and mayapples just emerging. The light was poor where the mayapple was just pushing through and they do look a lot like slightly green morels at that stage and well... I have to admit, it was me that killed all those baby mayapples! I'm sorry.
Anyway now comes the good part. I'm going to tell you just where my two best plots are. The one most productive is just west of LaFollet a few miles and right off route 25. Or maybe it’s route 156. At any rate, you'll know the place, there's a red barn fairly close by and you pass a couple of white houses three or four miles back. OK, the other really good spot is, are you ready? Just into Anderson County five or six miles and off to the left.
There you have it, the locations of my long-guarded secret morel plots. Enjoy!