For my third segment of “Harvesting Anchorage,” I decided to go beyond city limits and venture out to the Kenai Peninsula in search of morel mushrooms.
My family and I have always been avid boletus mushroom hunters, but we’ve never looked for morels. I heard they tend to pop up in areas where there have been forest fires. After last year’s Funny River fire consumed more than 155,000 acres of land, I decided to keep an eye on this area through a secret informant. Ok, I have a friend who lives out there and is also a gatherer like myself. She gave me the news last week that the morels were up so my mom and I set out on a tiny road trip to Soldotna in search of these pristine, delicate, flavorful fungi.
Much like boletes, my friend told us morels tend to grow near birches. We pulled off to the side of Funny River Road and hiked about 1/4 mile into the burned spruce tree forest in search of patches of birch trees.
The hunt wasn’t wildly successful, but I was thrilled even to find a few because these little suckers are hidden! Unlike boletes, which stand prominently and proud, morels look like burnt spruce cones and are about the same color as the earth. I had to get low to the ground to see any at all, but on the plus side, when I found one morel I usually found at least two more in the same area. It truly felt like a treasure hunt.
We immediately spotted some false morels, which looked completely different from the real things. Most of the real morels were pointy and brown. The false morels looked like misshapen blobs and were much lighter brown, like burnt sienna.
We spent a good three hours yesterday and today hunting. There was competition. Lots of cars were parked along the road and I saw one fellow with a tall laundry basket fashioned into a backpack that was half full. Another man had a full trash bag of morels, so it was obvious there were some experienced hunters among us.
I’m happy with our small haul. I sent my mom home with the majority of our pick because she has the dehydrator. I took home a couple of dozen, cleaned them, sliced them and sautéd them in butter. They had an earthy, mushroomy flavor (surprise!) but an altogether different taste from boletes.
I’ve heard morels grow here in Anchorage and I’m now confident in what they look like so I can add them to my list of foods to search for when I’m out in the woods.
Have you ever picked morels in Anchorage? Tell me about it!