2018-05-17 / Life in Leelanau

Spring Delicacies

Mighty morel brings hunters to the woods
By Kelsey Pease
Enterprise intern

“Later than usual,” is the resounding consensus from mushroom foragers in the county in regards to this year’s morel mushroom season.

Hansen Foods in Suttons Bay is offering $15/ pound, but currently their shelves are bare.

Ceramic artist Leif Sporck attributes their delay to the cold weather and late snowfall.

“It set things back a bit, but it’s going to be a great season,” Sporck said. Having hunted for morel mushrooms with his parents since before he could even walk, Sporck has become accustomed to predicting their arrival.

He explained that, the longer the snow keeps the ground moist, the more abundant the season will be. This also means it will be quick, though.

These days, Sporck doesn’t hunt for them like he used to.

“Having a little taste is enough,” he said. Instead, he occasionally leads tours to teach people how to find them.


WHAT A WEEKEND! Empire resident Pete Edwards struck gold with a heap of morels he found this weekend. He and his wife Marlene used the hefty harvest to prepare a special Mother’s Day brunch. WHAT A WEEKEND! Empire resident Pete Edwards struck gold with a heap of morels he found this weekend. He and his wife Marlene used the hefty harvest to prepare a special Mother’s Day brunch. Although divulging hot spots is against the mushroom hunting credo, Park Ranger Merrith Baughman reported that visitors to the Sleeping Bear Dunes often leave carrying a bounty during this time of year.

“The most popular locations are Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and on M22, south of Fowler Road,” she said.

While visitors are allowed to collect mushrooms in unrestricted areas of the park, there are limits. Baughman reported that, “Up to one gallon can be picked per day per person and for personal consumption only.”

Additionally, foragers are advised to not concentrate too heavily in one area.

In order to sell mushrooms, the State of Michigan requires foragers to become certified “experts” in the identification of wild mushrooms through courses offered by the Midwest American Mycological Information Corporation. The cost of the course is $175 and those who score at least 80 percent on the exam are certified for five years.


HAPPY FIND. Marlene Edwards finds a lone morel in the woods. She and her husband Pete forage for many tasty treats found in Leelanau County. HAPPY FIND. Marlene Edwards finds a lone morel in the woods. She and her husband Pete forage for many tasty treats found in Leelanau County. Earlier this year, a bill was introduced to remove the certification requirement.

It was vetoed by Gov. Rick Snyder, who wrote that, “Wild mushrooms entering our food supply should meet the same high safety standards as other products.” Supporters of certification program have expressed concerns that the number of accidental poisonings would increase if the requirements were removed.

“I understand why there would be a movement for more regulation,” said avid mushroom hunter and grower Jim Moses. “But I can’t say whether the curriculum is actually making people more knowledgeable. I hope it does.”

Moses and his wife, Linda Grigg, own and operate Forest Garden Organic Farm in Maple City, where they have been growing shiitake mushrooms on hardwood logs for over 30 years. Moses has also taught classes on mushroom growing and hunting for 20 years as part of classes offered through Extended Education Services at Northwestern Michigan College.

For him, hunting morel mushrooms is more of a hobby - when he has the time.

In Moses’ opinion, the best advice you can give to a rookie hunter is to just enjoy being out in the woods and get to know your trees.

“Their lives are pretty intricately intertwined with mushrooms,” he said. “The trick is to learn about the trees they are typically associated with.”

Moses also described how individual species have their own rules of thumb for determining their friendliness. For instance, the stem of a morel should be completely hollow when cut from top to bottom. That being said, all morels have a certain level of toxicity that can only be mediated by cooking.

Although definitive studies have not been published yet, Moses also advises against hunting for morels in orchards.

“There’s new research that some contain lead as a result of growing in orchards that have been sprayed with insecticide,” he said.

In his opinion, there are only two general rules of safety that hold true regardless of a mushroom’s species or location.

“Firstly, all mushrooms are edible once,” Moses said. “Secondly, no mushrooms are poisonous until you eat them.”

Other than that, you have to recognize them on a case by case basis.

Moses also predicts a short season, with everything coming out close together.

“It’s complicated,” he said. “The world of mushroom is extremely complicated and getting more so all the time. I just hope that people will be safe.”

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