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Putting morels in their place (in history): Good spring in 2019

2019 had been a good year for experienced and newbies to find morels.

Resized/Sun-Times
Rob Fleming took this nice shot of morels in May of 2019.
Provided by Rob Fleming

Normally texts from Ray Hinton are about yellow perch or lake trout on the Chicago lakefront.

Not on May 1, when he texted a photo and this, ``This is the first time I found some while I was working. Please tell me these are morels.’’

It’s been that kind of spring for morel mushrooms around Chicago. People, such as Hinton, found their first. People, such as myself, found their biggest.

It’s seems like the best in years. But sometimes social media skews memories and meaning.

So I checked with mycologist Andy Miller, curator of fungi for the Illinois Natural History Survey. Miller is a big brain of mushroom information. I even drove to Champaign in April to hear him at the East Central Illinois Master Naturalist’s ``Lunch with an Expert.’’

He emailed back, ``Yes, the cool and wet Spring has certainly contributed to an extended period for mushrooms to fruit in our area. Fungi like moisture and we have had plenty of that!’’

I also wondered if more people were out.

``It appears that more people are venturing out into the woods to forage for many things that are natural, including morels,’’ he emailed. ``People are now looking for ramps, leeks, mushrooms, etc. Maybe it has to do with the increased interest in farmer’s markets and making more people aware of what they eat and where it comes from.’’

I really like that observation and his thought on foraging in general, `` Yes, anything that gets people off their smart phones and out into the woods in a great thing!’’

My life to his typing fingers.

When I asked about other general advice, Miller emailed, ``Not really . . . other than the typical advice of never putting mushrooms in plastic bags, only eat ones that look fresh, and never eat anything you definitely cannot identify.’’

I keep an onion bag in my camo bag for accidental finds. I would add don’t eat mushrooms from chemically treated lawns. Jim Carmichal, deer butcher/forager, said he saves the washing water, then spreads it.

Enjoy what is left of the morel season.

HUNTING: Illinois hunters, despite challenging weekend weather in season, harvested 15,189 turkeys, well ahead of harvest in 2018 (13,494).

WILD THINGS: Note sure what it means, but, for the first time in 20 years, I had a Baltimore oriole at my hummingbird feeder.

STRAY CAST: Top five Bears (outdoors version): the late Doug Buffone, Willie Young, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Jeff Fisher and Tim Wrightman.