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Morel Season Begins in the Great Lakes

Morel Season Begins in the Great Lakes
May 16, 2018 Mary Ellen Geist
Photo by MEG

The 58th National Morel Festival in Boyne City, Michigan

In parts of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana right now, people are beginning to find them. But they might not want you to know about it.

Photo by MEG

Morel mushroom omelette, Photo by MEG

That is not the case however, in Northern Michigan’s Boyne City where mushroom hunters race through the woods for cash competitions, morel mushroom dishes are created and eaten with gusto, and the tents in local parks are filled with sculptures, paintings, jewelry, t-shirts, walking sticks and more, all with morel themes.

In case you haven’t heard, the Great Lakes Region is home to a precious resource quite a few people hold dear: morchella esculenta – the morel mushroom.  They only appear for a few weeks, usually during the month of May, each year. They are considered one of the most delicious species of mushroom, and they are valuable because they can only be found in the wild.

Photo by MEG

Morel mushrooms in the wild, Photo by MEG

That’s why many people are secretive about the spots where they succeed in finding the elusive mushroom.

It is rather odd sort of fungi.

But it is beloved. And it is so well-loved that an actual “National Morel Festival” was created in Boyne City, Michigan 58 years ago.

This year it takes place from May 17th through May 20th.

Executive Director with the Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce, Ashley Cousens, tells Great Lakes Now, “We are getting reports that people are finding mushrooms so that is exciting. The weather is really nice, in the 60’s and 70’s and sunny, and we got a lot of moisture last week. We’re hearing the black ones are out.”

Photo by MEG

Morel mushroom in the wild, Photo by MEG

I asked Cousens what the allure of the morel mushroom is all about.

“The best part about morels is it’s kind of like a treasure hunt. They’re kind of wily. They do what they want. They don’t grow in the same places each year. Sometimes they skip a year. Then you’ll find one in a random place one year and it will never come back. Some years,  there’s a whole bunch and then the next year only a few. That’s what I think piques everyone’s interest: it’s so varied from year to year. Depends on the weather and all sorts of factors. That’s why these mushrooms are wild. And they can’t be formally cultivated. It’s tricky how they grow and we don’t know everything about them. I think that’s what really brings people out.”

Cousens says at this year’s festival, “Thursday we kick off the festival with the craft beer block party in downtown Boyne City in the 100 block of South Lake Street. We have twenty breweries, one winery, six restaurants and food trucks to provide food and beverages. And the band “The Galactic Sherpas” will be returning to the B.C. pizza stage.  Then we have the Morel Fest “Wine and Dine” at the Beach House Restaurant on Friday night near Boyne Mountain.  The competitive morel hunt happens Saturday morning and then the “Taste of Morels” under a heated tent – it’s all about the morels. The food is great. Even if you can’t go the festival, the local area restaurants feature morel dishes as well.”

Photo by MEG

Morel mushrooms, Photo by MEG

She says some of the dishes featured at the festival are scallops with morels, morel crostinis, and something new this year: morel sliders.

Cousens adds,“Even if you’re not a mushroom lover I would encourage anyone to try morels because they’re not like regular mushrooms. They have a different flavor and a different taste. And everyone up here gets really in to it. Chefs try to outdo each other.”

Thousands of people attend the festival each year from places as far away as Japan and Germany.

For more information, go to bcmorelfestival.com.

Pre-registration is required for many events.

Want the low-down on how to find morels? In 2010, I interviewed Boyne City, Michigan Morel Expert Tony Williams.

And here’s an article about my first mushroom hunting competition in Boyne City written by mushroom expert Langdon Cook. 

For a good website to help you find morels go to michiganmorels.com

Featured Image: Great Lakes Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Geist with morel mushrooms, Photo by MEG

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