But, hopefully not the last!
I know ... mushroom-obsessed people can be a little creepy sometimes. I felt a bit like Gollum, two weekends ago, when my son Nathan and I went on our first morel-hunting foray down into Oregon, and he snapped this photo of me sneaking up on my first morel find of the season, a nice yellow (or blonde) morel.
Some friends and I, pictured at left, had taken a previous foray, in mid-April, into a canyon which had a 2015 burn where we had previously found fire morels, near the town of Leavenworth. Because of the wet winter, we had found lots of brown mushrooms, but no morels yet. There was still unmelted snow on the ground, in some places, and my sense was that we were still too early, at least at this altitude in Eastern Washington. We committed to returning, and plan to do so in two weekends.
So, smarting a bit from our lack of good fortune in our Eastern Washington foray, we instead decided to head south into Northern Oregon. There was one area we identified as a possible target, a 2014 burn along the ridges above the Clackamas River basin, about an hour southeast of Portland. (There were many other burn areas in southeastern Oregon, and I was reading lots of reports of nice morel finds there, but these were all a bit out of our range for our available hunting timeslot. It sucks having real work to do on the weekdays, doesn't it?)
So we took the RV up, camped in a nice little RV park outside Portland on Friday night, and got an early start toward the Clackamas on Saturday morning. We found a decent place to park the rig (Jedediah is his name) along the river, near a crossing bridge that gave us access to the far side, and after hunting a bit unsuccessfully down near the river, headed up a forest service road (barred to motor vehicles) about a thousand vertical feet or so to a ridge that looked promising.
Once on the ridge, the hunting began in earnest. During our forays off the trail into one promising-looking spot (lots of tall fir trees which had been toasted in the burn, and pine needle loam covering the forest floor), we soon found a false morel — Gyromitra esculenta, pictured at right. These are said to be highly toxic, unless you cook off the hydrazine fumes in a well-ventilated area. If you do, some people have said, you are rewarded with a very morel-like flavor. These are called "Snowbank Morels" (even though they're not really morels), I assume because they often appear early in these high wooded areas.
We found and collected maybe a half-dozen of these Snowbank Morels. I intended to experiment with them to test the cooked edibility theory (trying very small batches after cooking thoroughly outdoors, of course), but never quite worked up the courage.
Also, we knew from previous experience that the presence of G. esculenta indicated the possibility of real morels nearby. So we began focusing our search in this area ... and were soon rewarded by our first yellow morel find. Nathan claims the honors. I posted the following photo on the Pacific Northwest Mushroom Identification Forum, and someone said it reminded them of the one I posted below it. I have no idea why:
Anyway, at this point I was feeling pretty jealous, of course, so I was gratified to find the second yellow morel.
By the way, Nathan stuffed our Yellow Morels with Blue Cheese and sauteed them with flank steak. Mmmmmmm!
We also encountered a dead tree trunk (still standing) with a huge profusion of Pearl Oyster mushrooms fruiting out of it. It was on a very steep slope, just below the road, and we didn't dare scale it, so we did our best to harvest what we could reach ... which was about 10 pounds worth of oysters!
As I mentioned, our next foray in a few weeks will probably be into Eastern Washington (again), or possibly up into Southern BC. David Arora (of "All That the Rain Promises, and More" fame) has been posting very nice photos of a wide variety of morels he's been finding there. And that will probably bring us near to the end of the morel season.
How about you? What have you been finding out there? I think this unusually wet winter has created some interesting possibilities for spring Morel hunting.
Also, in closing, I thought I should share five other photos: 1) this mouth-watering preparatory morel-hunting meal which Nathan fixed the night before our big hunt. That is a big bucket of steamed muscles, and dipping sauce made of butter, garlic, and shallots. Eat your hearts out!
2) We found a cool geocache while we were up on the ridge hunting. I would have contributed a morel if I thought it might have survived and been appreciated!
3) Soak in this lovely view of a very verdant covering of clover on the forest floor where we were hunting morels!
4) Not edible, but I thought this jelly fungus was pretty.
5) And, finally, the same thing goes for this pretty shelf fungus (commonly called a conch)