If you haven’t yet caught Mushroom Fever, plan to attend Parke County’s 16th Annual Mansfield Mushroom Festival this April 28th and 29th. During this two-day event, the mushroom takes center stage. Morels are hunted, bought, sold, auctioned, and even compete for cash prizes. Register for the mushroom hunt between 8 and 10am, then return at 3pm to see how your find compares. The person who finds the largest mushroom each day wins $50, and prizes such as mushroom walking sticks will also be are awarded. Pat McCarter, who manages the festival, says, “People always have a great time on the hunt. There’s all kinds of wonderful food, including cooked mushrooms!” You can keep the mushrooms you find, or sell them in the auction. Last year the biggest mushroom found during the hunt weighed in at 11 ounces and auctioned off for $40, plus brought the winner the $50 cash prize. Maybe this year you’ll find a $90 mushroom! On Sunday the largest weighed 9 1/4 ounces.

During the festival the Mansfield Roller Mill is also open for free tours, and on Sunday a classic car show will takes place. Visitors can also shop for crafts, antiques, collectibles, and of course mushroom memorabilia. Sign up for the mushroom hunt at Fox’s Overlook on Main Street, Mansfield, across from the Mill. The mushroom auction takes place at the Mansfield Red Barn on Main Street. Make a weekend of it, as camping is also available on site. Mushroom Fever is catching on - last year 30,000 people took part in the festivities! For information call 765-653-4026.

Morels can be difficult to see among the debris on the forest floor

Morel Madness Returns
by Carolyn Rahe

They’ve already been spotted, scouring the woods, eyes glued to the ground, bags in hand. They look up nonchalantly when spotted, as if they’re just wandering aimlessly, but I know better. I know a morel mushroom hunter when I see one. For some it’s the challenge of finding the “first” morel of the season. Others are happy to wait until things warm up a little, then to spend a sunny day browsing the woods or backroads in search of the mother lode of morels.

Granted, mushroom hunting doesn’t seem to come naturally to some, no matter how dedicated the hunter. With the forest floor covered with the grays, tans and the furrows of dead leaves, morels are perfectly camouflaged by their surroundings. Some folks have been “hunting” the fungal harbingers of spring for years without much to show for their efforts. For them, I’ve collected the wisdom of the experts and will share tips on finding morel mushrooms - one of nature’s most delectable gifts.

Why “Mushroom Hunting”?

Most people will tell you it’s the taste. It is truly a melt-in-your mouth flavor experience. The rarity of the morel also makes them valued. As far as I know they only grow in the wild, so to enjoy a morel someone has to have gone out into the wild and found them. You will rarely see them on a restaurant menu, but if you do they are likely to be the most expensive item. If you do find morels for sale, don’t be shocked at a $20 a pound price tag. So skip the high prices, grab a bag, prepare to sharpen your focus and get out and hunt for your own mushrooms. If you aren’t convinced to do your own mushroom hunting but want to try them for yourself, plan to attend the Mansfield Mushroom Festival April 28th and 29th (see details below). They’ll be serving cooked morels as well as auctioning fresh mushrooms. Also on May 6th in Richmond, a Spring Mushroom Program will be held by Dr. Ruch, a Ball State Professor. for people to learn to identify and find spring mushrooms, especially the famous morel. After the program participants will head out to try to find mushrooms. Contact the visitors bureau at 800828-8414 for information on the Richmond Mushroom Program.

A tasty treat of morels and asparagus awaits one lucky diner

Morel season is generally late March, April and May. As many mushrooms are deadly poisonous, it is best to go with an experienced mushroom hunter, and only eat cooked morels. Morels have a distinctive appearance: their caps or fruit bodies (aka heads) are usually conical, always hollow, and have a pitted appearance. A single mushroom can range from less than an inch in height, to a pound in weight. Beware of the false morel, which has a similar appearance but with a more “brainlike” cap that is wrinkled and folded, but not pitted: this is a deadly mushroom.

Where to Look

Mushrooms reproduce by the spreading of fine spores. These spores can land any place, but are more likely to be found in areas that “trap” these spores. For this reason wooded areas which have trees with fissured bark are common hunting grounds. They are usually found when the temperatures warm up, and on sunny days.

One of the most common pieces of advice is to look for dead or dying elm trees. I stop at any dead or dying tree, rotting stumps, or rotting trees on the ground. Once you’ve spotted one, watch your step and keep looking. It’s said that there is never just one morel in an area. It is also said that they can be found in a circular pattern. Other trees signal their presence are white pine, tulip trees, ash, shag-bark hickories and old apple trees. They are rarely under sycamores.

Spring wildflowers not only make the walk in the woods more pleasant, they also give the mushroom hunter clues. “Bayou Bill” Scifres, in his All Outdoors column, writes that when the “spring beauty” blooms you are likely to find “little waxy caps” for a short period of time, and that when the May apple starts to “corkscrew its way up through the forest floor”, the little gray mushrooms are out. Bayou Bill also suggests that “when blood root blooms” you are most likely to find the big gray and big yellow morels. Though you’ll hear mixed advice about looking near May apples, one of my best finds was the perfect gray morel standing alone under the umbrella of a May apple.

The best advice for morel hunting: keep your eyes on the ground wherever you are and take along a bag. If you find yourself in the right place at the right time, you’ll need something other than your hands to carry home your prized find!

For questions or comments about Mushroom Hunting or this article email Carolyn@SouthernIN.com.

All Feature Articles, artwork and photographs ©2001 by Dervish Design. Some information on the 'County Info' pages is taken directly from brochures published by Visitors Bureaus and Chambers of Commerce.