MUSCODA - With the downpour early in the week and warmer temperatures many Wisconsinites are itching to get out in the woods to search for the favorite seasonal delicacy, Morel Mushrooms.
After an abysmal year of harvesting last year for many, hopes are high that 2021 may bring abundance.
This isn’t more true for anyone than Muscoda’s local American Legion Commander Tom Nondorf.
Nondorf is tasked each year with heading the Legion’s sponsoring the Muscoda Morel Mushroom Festival. This year the festival is making a comeback after last year's cancelation. The one day event hopes to be able to provide the prized fungi, after struggling with getting them in last year.
Dealing with the ever unpredictable Mother Nature along with the changing times, mushroom buying and selling isn’t what it used to be.
“I’d sure like to be able to purchase some this year,” Nondorf shared with a chuckle. “Last year was a real struggle getting them in. And I’m feeling kind of worried. It isn’t the same as it was in years past. With the Internet and others buying, it makes it difficult.”
Nondorf did share though that in part, a strong sense of tradition when it comes to morels helps to drive the buying and selling.
“We still have our regular customers year after year, and families who bring the kids who helped hunt and like to give them a cut of the money,” Nondorf said.
So far, as of Monday May 3, Nondorf hasn't received any calls about buying just yet, but was very hopeful they’d start to come in soon.
Like everything in nature, predicting the appearance of the mushroom or the environment it grows in can be difficult.
“A lot of the Elms that people used to depend on finding them are dying out,” Nondorf shared. “They’re not finding them like they used to. That, and the weather the past few years hasn’t been working out.”
Morels require just the right amount of warmth, soil content and moisture to appear. Along with the old saying “when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, then it's time to look for morels.”
According to an article in Outdoor Life magazine, “Morels are often found near trees, but not just any tree, explains Joe Lacefield, wildlife biologist. If you want to find morels, start by learning to identify trees: sycamore, hickory, ash and elm are four to focus on.” Additionally, many find that old apple orchards can be productive areas to find the elusive fungi as well.
Morels tend to grow near dying Elm trees because they offer a plentiful abundance of subsoil food source in their decaying tree roots with the additional surface seeping food source in the fallen bark.
Typically a wet spring within a week of 40-50 degree nights to get the soil just the right temperature will be promising. Mixed with daytime highs of at least 70 degrees and the perfect mushroom storm will be created.
Weather like this has caused both early and late timing of mushroom season as Nondorf recalls.
“Our very best year was in 2012 when we bought 2,400 pounds and we started buying on April 5 when we had a really warm April,” Nondof shared. However, ideally Nondorf and his fellow Legion members would prefer to have the morels rolling in this week and next to be able to offer them up, cup by cup for the Mushroom Festival.
Morel mushrooms grow all around the world and are widely known as Morchellas. They’re difficult to cultivate, which makes them a foraging prize. This means in places where commercial harvesting happens like here in North America, as well as Turkey, China, The Himalayas, India, Pakistan and Kasmir the gathering of this wild mushroom has become a multi-million dollar industry.
The Morchella was first typified in 1794, shortly after names like Morchella deliciosa were suggested to emphasize the love for this particular mushroom. Typically though, in Wisconsin we see Yellow Morels or Morchella esculenta. But in other parts of the United States schroomers will find Black Morels or Morchella Elata.
On top of being delicious and interesting to hunt for, selling morels in Muscoda will also support the community.
As Nondorf points out, the Legion depends on the buying and selling of morels to help with the Legions cash flow. This money they use to help sponsor the Riverdale Summer Baseball Program, among other supportive roles throughout the community.
“It’s(selling mushrooms to the Legion) a way for people to support the community without even realizing they’re doing it!” Nondorf pointed out. This is in addition to of course helping to provide the village and festival with a well rounded experience by being able to offer an abundance of morels to all.
Additionally, having mushrooms in Muscoda helps bring the experience to those who may not be able to get out in the woods.
“There are so many people who love them and for me I love being able to get them to people who can’t get out in the woods anymore for one reason or another, but still enjoy them,” Nondorf shared.
This year Nondrof expects the Legion will be paying between $20-22.50 per pound for Mushrooms. He plans to be buying out of his home from now until Monday May 10 when they will be set up at the Kratochwill building. Nondorff notes that sellers should plan to enter through the back door of the building. Be sure to bring your mushrooms in clean and in a paper or box is preferred.To reach Nondorff to sell mushrooms or with more questions you can call 608-604-4200.