Mushroom Hunting: Two Great Days

By Tom Nauman

This month's column was supposed to be a wrap up of the '97 season's festivals and mushroom events. I'll save that for a future column and write about two great days of personal mushroom hunting. With all the events Vicky and I are involved with in the spring it's not easy to find a day when Mother Nature and Father Time are in sync with the Nauman's.

But it happened several times this season. One was on May 19. We had left the National Championship at Boyne City, Michigan at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday the 17th and drove to Kankakee as our son, Josh, was graduating from the University of Illinois on Sunday. Under other circumstances we would have stayed in Michigan several days. Like everywhere else, the season was very late in Michigan and the pickin' was pretty slim. So we don't think we missed much.

We had talked to Leonard Pease from Tower Hill, Illinois about hunting around our sites on Monday and he expressed interest in joining us. He was on his way back from Michigan also - he placed third in the non-resident men's category at the National. While we attended graduation ceremonies in Champaign on Sunday, Leonard was hunting (without much luck) in the Rockford area.

Leonard arrived at the house around 10:00 a.m. on Monday the 19th. Vicky decided to stay in the bottom land - she doesn't like climbing, while Leonard and I took to the hills. Vicky came home two hours later with three pounds of morels and two pounds of fresh sulphur shelf mushrooms (laetiporus sulphureus). The sulphur shelf typically is a fall or summer mushroom but obviously can arrive in spring also. It's taste is slightly similar to morels. It's also nearly impossible to confuse it with anything you wouldn't want to eat. It is a shelf mushroom and grows on decaying wood or on live trees where a limb has been torn off by wind or lightning. It's orange on top of the shelf and sulphur yellow underneath.

The hill people, Leonard and I, didn't have much luck for the first hour or so. The mushrooms seemed very sparse... one here, two there. No real grouping of any kind was evident. We then came upon an area where a pasture had been cleared several years ago with the excess soil bulldozed into a ravine. It was on the mounds of dirt near dead elms that we started finding big yellow morels - lots of 'em. We continued to perimeter the tops of all the ravines and checked the south edges of the timber. You may remember from an earlier column that the south edges of timber is where morels appear early in the season. May 19 is very late for our area. I don't know if it was because of the cool late spring or whether no one had checked that site this season, but Leonard and I arrived home with about seven pounds of morels. We also figured we had walked about 7 miles in the process.

We then went to a different site at about 4:30 p.m.. The area we checked first is usually productive, but not on that day. So we applied what we had learned earlier in the day to this site and took off for the south edges. We had to quit picking at about 8:00 p.m. because of darkness, but we had another seven pounds of morels between us. We had also walked another seven miles!

Then on Friday evening, May 30, our friend Tom Licavoli from Vassar, Michigan called. He was in Janesville, Wisconsin and the pickin' was pretty good. Vicky was tired and had officially ended her mushroom season on May 19th. But my ten year-old daughter, Tomi Jo, expressed an interest in going. Tomi is a pretty good shroomer. She's the one that tells me not to move my feet because she has spotted a mushroom between them. A mushroom that a really good shroomer should have seen before he was standing on it! Enough said about my abilities.

So at 7:00 a.m. Tomi and I departed for Janesville. We met Beth Miller, her children Matt and Danielle, Chuck Anzilotti from Chicago, and Tom Licavoli for breakfast. The Millers had soccer games to attend and the children were then going roller skating. It was then that Tomi Jo opted for using wheels to motate rather than a Shroom Stick. So Chuck, Tom, and I left to go mushrooming. Beth was to join us after the soccer match.

Within five minutes we found several good specimens. One rather large yellow morel started to disperse spores as soon as I picked it. I was as if it had a cloud surrounding it. I had never witnessed that phenomenon in the field before. Tom Licavoli was especially interested. He knows how to milk the mushrooms for spores for the Morel Booster Garden Kit that he has developed. Another first was that I had never found morels in a pine grove before (mainly because I normally don't look in pine groves). This pine grove did have a dead elm it though. We then had a dry spell for about the next hour. And places that should have had lots of morels didn't. I think that particular area had already been picked even though we didn't see any stumps.

We found several good patches of mushrooms including two little gray mushrooms. Surprising us since grays (morchella esculenta ) are indicative of early to mid-season and we had found big yellows (morchella crassipes ) an hour before and yellows indicate late season. Not logical, but who cares. We were "pickin' and a grinnin".

Beth then rejoined the group as we were finishing that area. The next place we checked was also very fruitful. We found one patch near an oak tree and another near an ash tree. We picked until about 3:00 p.m. and had gathered about eight pounds for the day. Chuck then told us that his brother is the SnackWell Cookie man. We decided that when SnackWell markets mushrooms Chuck gets to stand in for his brother!