They come quietly, their bell-shaped caps ridged like honeycomb. When trilliums nod, rain-laden, and yellow Dutchman's breeches push through snow-pressed leaves, it's time to pick up knife and basket, don boots and take to the woods. It's morel season, a fleeting month; time to go adventuring, expectation sharpened by the gentle thrill of this venerated hunt.
Morels, some say, are the most delicious edible mushrooms on Earth, prized by chefs for their delicate, nut-like flavour. They grow throughout North America, from coast to coast, and are known by dozens of names—'cow's heads,' 'burnsite,' 'thick-footed'—but they're usually categorized as black, yellow, or half-free. Black morels are dark brown or black with lighter pits and a white stem. The yellow morel, most prized for its delicate flavour and meaty texture, is a lovely yellowish-brown. Half-frees are so-called because when sliced vertically, half of the cap hangs free from the stem.
Remember to take care: just as you require a guide in uncharted territory, you must take an experienced mushroom hunter with you the first time you go. False morels lurk, their caps similarly honeycombed. True morels, when cut open, are completely hollow. If it's not hollow, don't swallow!
Although they follow certain patterns, morels are unpredictable, shifting, vanishing, offering no sureties. They spring up in the black desolation following forest fires. They're found around newly dead trees whose bark is 'slippery.' They're allied with certain trees: white ash, poplar, beech, and maple. Sometimes they're found on moist south-facing slopes, or in long-abandoned orchards. Certain verities apply: go after a rain, and with a hunter's walk: slow, attuned to subtleties, keen-eyed. Lean, when you've found them, and either gently tug the mushroom from the ground or slice just above the dirt-covered base.