Arguably the most delicious of all wild mushrooms found in Alaska is the black morel. It is the silver lining to the Wildfire season. Morels are known to fruit in abundance the spring after a forest fire, providing there is enough spring rain to allow it. This year there were severe wildfires that crossed the Parks Highway and other roads and trails. Consequently, next spring morel patches may be very accessible by car and foot.
There are three key differences between true and false morel. True morels are hollow inside. False morels are stuffed or filled with a cotton-y tissue. The cap of the true morel is fused seamlessly with the stalk, but the top of the false morel is attached to the stalk at the center and then folds down around the stalk, but can sometimes be stuck to or fused with the stalk in places.
False Morel Mushroom

The gyromitra genus of a false morel contains a chemical which metabolizes to monomethylhydrazine, a component of rocket fuel, in your stomach. This can lead to dizziness, vomiting, and serious neurological impairment.

Morels and false morels are in the phylum Ascomycota, which means they make their spores in the cup-like pockets or folds of the cap in microscopic structures called asci that look like long water balloons. The asci have 8 spores each, and when the moisture and air pressure is right, the end of the “water balloon” pops and all the spores shoot out! Next time you find a morel you should try gently blowing across the cap and then watch- you may see a puff of white spores like smoke!

True Morel Mushrooms

The true morel is a delicacy whose flavors develop the longer it cooks. Undercooked morels are well known to cause gastrointestinal distress, even in people who eat morels regularly. When cooked well they taste incredible!
If you have a windfall of morels, the best way to save them is to trim the base of the stalk and dry them promptly with a food dehydrator. They are fully dry when they crack instead of bend.
To clean dried morels, cover with warm water and agitate to remove spruce needle duff or insects, then change the water and soak until reconstituted, about 30 minutes. Drain and pat with paper towels, saving the water for broth. Cook using a dry sautee method or roasting until water has all been released and cooked off. Right when the last of the water evaporates, add some fat (butter or neutral oil) and cook until browned to your liking. I serve them as a simple side dish with a pinch of good salt.

I’ve heard many tips for when to go hunt morels. When the Alaska bluebells are blooming. Two days after the second spring rain. My favorite is “When the birch leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear”! I have had good luck finding morels on south-facing slopes with cottonwood trees or burned spruce forests after a good rain. Wherever you find them, take notes and start to notice patterns of your own. You have a whole lifetime to learn the art of foraging!

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