I'm told the morels are already up, but that can't be. My dad and his dad and his dad's dad have always maintained that the delicious, wild mushrooms aren't around until the dogwood trees' leaves are about as big as a mouse's ear, but they aren't quite to that point yet. (It's all very scientific, you see.) When the time is right, my dad and I will sneak out to our favorite, super secret mushroom hunting location -- only to bump into a handful of other morel seekers with the same idea. Some years are great, and I hear tales of men finding 50 pounds of the delicacy which they sell to fancy-pants restaurants and our local, cooperative grocery stores for big bucks. Other years are busts, and you're lucky to find two or three. (Here's a shot of our haul from 2006.) Now at least until very recently, folks didn't fully understand what soil and weather conditions were needed to produce a patch of morels.

These days, though, one can ostensibly cultivate morels on a particular plot by way of specially inoculated trees and even morel-growing kits. It shouldn't seem too far-fetched because we've long had the ability to grow all kinds of mushrooms on spore-laden logs. I'm presently trying a kit called The Morel Habitat from Gourmet & Mushroom Products which is said to produce morels in any type of soil in about a four-by four-foot space. The Gourmet & Mushroom Products people make some big promises: "Typically, only a few pounds of morel mushrooms are found the first spring it produces; the next year provides the best crops, and crop size may fluctuate in subsequent years; it may take two seasons to start producing. Customers have found morels in their Habitats 16 years after they were established!"

To make it work, I'll have to periodically mix fresh compostable matter into the morel bed and think of it as a long-term crop not unlike asparagus which takes quite a while to become established and start producing. For now, I'm feeling skeptical but optimistic, and, in the meantime, I'll be grabbing my walking stick and mesh bag -- great for further distributing spores from any morels I may come across -- and heading out to. . . well, I'm not telling where!

Story by Susan Brackney. This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008