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As the beginning of May rolls around each year the campground begins to green, daffodils begin to bloom and the sounds of spring fill the air. Though my wife, Kathy, and I are usually very busy preparing for the upcoming camping season we try to take a few walks around the area searching for one of the spring’s greatest treasures, morel mushrooms. They seem to appear each year around the same time, give or take a week or two, depending on the timing of spring. Door County isn’t the best place in the state to search for them but there are definitely enough around to keep us interested. It is also a great excuse to get out for a walk in the spring woods with the dog and view the blooms of wildflowers.
One evening, after the campground work was completed for the day we leashed up the dog, grabbed a bag and headed out to some of the “secret” hot spots where we had found mushrooms in the past. If you are a mushroom hunter you know that if you stumble upon a honey hole of mushrooms, it’s much like finding a really good fishing spot, you tell no one. Because morels tend to appear in the same areas year after year, you can continue to harvest them assuming nobody else beats you there each spring.
As we walked through the woods our eyes were scanning the ground. The tan or black mushrooms blend in and it takes a good eye to spot them. Every once in a while we would see one. Because they often grow in groups Kathy and I would take a few minutes searching the area around it for any others that popped up. We would often find others close by, hidden under last year’s dried ferns or leaves.
Whitney, our Brittany spaniel, would often get impatient with us spending so much time in one spot. She was hunting other things, had already smelled all there was to smell and knew quite well there weren’t any pheasant or grouse in that area. Tugging on her leash she would drag us down the path to our next spot, sniffing all the way. Her pace was a bit faster than I would have liked to travel and I’m sure we past more than a few mushroom, leaving them for others to find.
Down the trail a bit further we encountered wild ramps. I dug down in the soil exposing the small white, onion shaped bulb. I carefully pulled them and added them to the bag of morels. Wild ramps are delicious perennials that taste like a cross between onion and garlic. Each spring I only harvest a couple plants from a cluster to ensure they will continue to grow and spread in that area. If too many are harvested each year they will eventually disappear from the area so I am very careful.
After about a 3 mile hike, the sun was starting to set so we turned and headed for home. We had about a half pound of morels and 6 ramps ready to be cleaned. Not a bad way to start the spring mushroom hunting season! Unfortunately I only made it out mushroom hunting a couple more times in the week that followed and found another half-pound or so. The campground kept me busy and it was a short morel season this year due to the cool spring weather.
In the days that followed we savored the few mushrooms the season had given us. One morning we had morel scrambled eggs, toast with Door County chopped cherry jam and coffee. For supper it was my homemade morel alfredo over pasta with wild ramps and a nice chardonnay. We savored every last bite and began to look forward to next spring’s morel crop.
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