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Morel Mushrooms in Maine

May 6, 2004

A prized yellow morel (Morchella esculenta)
found in the Maine spring woods

When we lived in Michigan the coming of spring was marked when wild morel mushroom started appearing in local markets. The best morels, however, were those that you found on your own. Mushroom hunters had their secret spots in the woods where they could harvest the prized edible yellow morel. Cleaned and cooked, morels are a delicacy with a very bold and deep earthy flavor that complements chicken and pork. I like them as well just fried and eaten with a little salt and pepper.

As a lad in Hudson, NH my good buddy Richard and I used to accompany his Polish grandmother on her foraging trips to collect a variety of edible wild mushrooms. It looked easy, but whenever we tried to do it on our own we always picked the poisonous kind. I remember his grandmother sorting through our basket of mushrooms, discarding every one declaring "bad mushroom, will make you sick", or "very bad mushroom, will kill you". Years later, I learned from a Michigan mycologist (mushroom expert) about morels and was delighted to find that I could forage and identify at least one variety of edible mushroom without poisoning myself on some toadstool by mistake.

On moving back to Maine I had gotten out of the habit of the annual springtime mushroom hunt. Last spring I happened to be walking through one of my Effingham, New Hampshire woodlots, not looking for mushrooms but checking out an area where I wanted to plant some red pine seedlings. Along a skidder trail in the pine-hardwood forest I found mushroom after mushroom sprouting from old logs and forest duff. The mushrooms looked very similar to the morels I remembered from Michigan and I harvested a number and took them home. There I pulled out my mushroom books to see what I'd found.

The Morel Life Cycle
Volk and Leonard 1990, Volk and Leonard, 1989a

The false morel (Gyromitra esculenta) or beefsteak mushroom
is similar to the yellow morel, but is poisonous
and should be avoided.

I had heard that Maine's climate and expanses of mixed forests make it exceptionally good for mushroom hunting. According to the Maine Extension Service there are several different kinds of edible mushrooms in Maine that can be enjoyed. The Service also cautions, however, that mushroom pickers should be careful about what they eat from the wild. There are about a dozen other varieties of toadstools that look similar to edible mushroom, but that can be deadly poisonous or will make you sick if you eat them.

On the cover of their brochure "Some Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms in Maine" (bulletin #7049, $1.25) was a color photo of two morel mushrooms, one edible and one poisonous. I very disappointed to find I had picked a big bag of poisonous "False Morels" from my woodlot. This mushroom (Gyromitra esulenta) is also called a beefsteak mushroom and deaths and illness have been reported from eating it. From the Extension Service bulletin and other references I learned that the false morel is easily confused with the true, or yellow morel (Morchella esculenta). It is one to three inches tall and has a cap that is folded and wrinkled. The inside of a false morel is mostly solid, interspersed with air pockets or chambers. The true morel has a cone-shaped cap with a pitted surface that looks a sponge, and have a hollow, white stem. It is similar, but not what I'd found.

The yellow morel has a cone-shaped cap
that resembles a sponge.

A good friend of mine who knows his mushrooms gave me three simple ways to tell true morels from false morels. (1) If it isn't hollow, don't swallow! (2) If it is red you could be dead! and (3) when in doubt, throw it out! I've learned to enjoy this fun springtime activity like it was a treasure hunt, with the prize to a successful hunt a bucket of delicious edible (and safe) morel mushrooms.

The good news was that both false and true morels could be found in the same type of spring woods. We have yellow morels in Maine. They are sometimes found in oak woods, but can also be found in apple orchards and near elm trees and stumps. However, they are not common in Maine and finding them is very unusual.

Finding false morels just motivated me to widen my search to find some of the edible ones. I searched my Effingham woodlot again and found no yellow morels. Rambling through a stand of red oaks in Sebago I was excited to see the familiar form of a yellow morel poking its head through the oak leaf litter on the ground! The cap looked like a sponge. With shaking hands I cut it off at its base and split it open lengthwise. It was hollow and white! I had found a true, edible, yellow morel!

Edible morels are hollow inside

There were several other yellow morels in this oak stand, and I found more not far away in the same woods. Once home, they made a wonderful dish with chicken. I saved one out just to dice, fry in a little bacon fat and eat with a little salt and pepper. Delicious!

This spring I am visiting an old buddy in Virginia for a few days of fly fishing, spring turkey hunting, and roaming the woods hunting for morels. The mushroom season here is about a month ahead of Maine, so I can get a little practice in early. BNoe and I talked to his neighbor James, a serious morel hunter. "Where do get your morels around here?" I asked him. He said, "Well boys, I'd like to help you out, but I won't even tell my mother where my mushroom patch is located. If I told you, I'd then have to kill you." With true southern hospitality James did mention a couple of spots where we might find something, but made no promises. We'll wander out later this afternoon and see what we can find. With any luck we'll find enough for supper and have enough to bring some back home to Maine.

And where is this patch of rare Maine morels that I've located back home? I'll never tell!

Distribution of Morels reported for 2002

Morel Mushroom Recipes

Spring Wild Harvest Ragout With Fiddlehead Greens & Morels


  • 1/2 pound fiddleheads, cleaned (link)
  • 1/2 pound "baby" pattypan squash, trimmed
  • 1/2 pound baby carrots, trimmed
  • 3/4 cup shelled fresh peas
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 pound pearl onions, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute, peeled, and trimmed
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 pound fresh morels, cleaned and trimmed and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced

Boil the fiddleheads in salted water for 4 minutes, or until they are crisp-tender. Drain and plunge in ice water to stop the cooking. When cool, drain in a colander. Repeat the process of boiling and cooling with the squash and the carrots. Boil the peas for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they are just tender, and drain them.

In a large heavy skillet combine 2 tablespoons of the butter, the onions, the thyme, the bay leaf and 1/4 cup of the broth and simmer the mixture, covered, for 5 minutes. Add the morels and 1/2 cup of the remaining broth and simmer the mixture, covered, for 10 minutes, or until the morels are tender.

Add the fiddleheads, the squash, the carrots, and the remaining 1/4 cup broth and simmer the mixture, covered, for 1 minute. Add the peas, the parsley, the mint, and the garlic and simmer, covered, for 1 minute.

Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, stirring until the butter is just melted. Discard the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper.

Serves 6

Recipe from Fresh

Basic Bacon and Morels

Use any amount of morels and one-fourth as much bacon. This is great itself, easy and fast to prepare in the field or at home.
Cut bacon into small pieces. Fry until ready to remove and eat, but leave in pan. Do not drain grease.
Add clean, split morels. Liquid will become "soupy".
Cook until grease returns to clarity. Mixture will make a light "popping" noise.
Drain. Eat or use. (Bacon will not get any crispier after morels are added due to their moisture content).

Recipe from The Mushroom Man.

Morels and Chicken

Sautee 4 boneless chicken breasts in a few tablespoons hot butter 'til done
Keep warm while the morel sauce is being prepared.

In a 12" non-stick skillet, heat 3 Tbs. butter (no substitute) over med-high heat until foaming.
Add 3 Cups small morels, or larger morels cut into slices no more than 1" long.
Sautee, stirring occassionally, for 15-20 min. until slightly crispy.
Add 1/4 C. thinly sliced green onion tops, 1/2 Tbs. dried parsley, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. Lawrey's salt, and cook for a few min.
Turn heat to higher and add 1/2 C. dry white wine and reduce to almost a glaze.
Turn heat to med. and add 2 C. whipping cream and 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard.
Reduce slightly over slow boil until thickened- about 10-12 min.

Ladle sauce over chicken breasts, using heated plates.
Serves four.

Modified slightly from a recipe provided by Jim Baymiller, Memphis TN.

A Grandmother's Morel Recipe

1 Batch of Morels, halved, cleaned & soaked "a while" or overnight in salt water with a heavy plate weighing them down in the water, then rinsed well & drained at cooking time.
In a wide shallow bowl: 1 Country Egg mixed with 1/4 c. milk
In a thick paper bag: 2 c. cornmeal with 1 t. black pepper mixed in.
In a deep well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, melt bacon grease 1" deep. Get it good and hot but not smoking.
Now dip your mushrooms in the milk and let them soak a little while your grease is heating.
Pick a handful out of the bowl and shake them a little to get off some of the liquid excess then drop them in the bag of cornmeal.
Hold your hand on the bottom of the bag so it dosn't break, and gently shake.
Add more mushrooms, shaking gently after each addition. When they are all coated very well, start laying them in a single layer in the hot skillet. Try to only turn them once, that way your coating stays on better. Don't salt, bacon grease is salty. When golden, drain on paper. Being lazy, I gently dump the coated morels in a colander set in a larger bowl. This lets the loose stuff fall off and if you need to touch up any bare spots your coating is right there.
My husband's family uses cracker crumbs and they made a production line out of it for extra family fun. It truly doesn't get any better than this, and if there aren't Morels in Heaven, I'm not sure I want to go there!

Courtesy of Laurie L,

This article was edited and published in the Neighbors Section of the Portland Press Herald on May 6, 2004 under the title "The morel of this story is a rare, tasty treat".
Copyright © 2004, Portland Press Herald, used here by permission

References used in this Journal Entry

Bassett, Barbara. Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms

Fresh Morels. Morel recipes from

Homola, Richard L. Some Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms Found in Maine. Univ of Maine Cooperative Extension Service, Bulletin #7049, 1971.

Morchella esculenta: The Yellow Morel

Morel Heaven, home of the mushroom man. Tips for identifying morels and false morels.

Official Website for The National Morel Mushroom Hunters Association

The Great Morel Site , a tribute to Shroomers.

Volk, Thomas. The morel life cycle

Photo Credits

The moving grey morel mushroom is from The Great Morel Site , a tribute to Shroomers.

The morel life cycle diagram is from Thomas Volk's The morel life cycle.

Animated map showing 2001 Reported Morel Distribution & Progress, from

Last updated May 29, 2004

Copyright © 2004, Allen Crabtree