Each year as winter turns to spring in Eastern Nebraska, many people trek out into the woodlands and river bottoms to hunt for a delicious, and sometimes elusive, prize.
“If someone asked me what about outdoor Nebraska makes me happy most — that immediately puts a smile on my face — the answer would be morel mushroom hunting,” Jenny Nguyen, editor of NEBRASKAland Magazine, said. “There’s just something about finally emerging into the woods after a long, dreary winter that makes me feel like a kid again — ready to explore, witness the animals and trees wake, and deeply breathe in the smell of moist earth and fresh spring rain.”
Morel mushrooms are pale tan fungi with a distinctive honeycomb cap that bring hunters to wooded areas throughout the area to forage in early spring each year.
Part of the allure of hunting the wild mushrooms is the fact that they only “pop” during a short period each year, usually from April to May in Eastern Nebraska.
According to Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Greg Wagner, he has personally harvested morels as early as March 20 in southeastern Nebraska along the Platte River, but the fungi’s initial arrival often coincides with the opening of Nebraska’s spring archery wild turkey hunting season on March 25.
“Many plants actually follow a similar pattern so one of the more reliable indicators of when to look for morels is to be mindful of when more easily observed plants begin to grow, when buds are opening or when they flower,” he said. “As an example in the wild, along the Missouri River, avid morel mushroom hunters key into jack-in-the-pulpits, May-apples, ferns and phlox. Morel mushrooms are often found amid these plants in the same combination of soil, moisture, slope and sunlight preferred by the mushrooms.”
According to information released by the NGPC, the best time to find morels is when daytime temperatures fall between 60 and 70 degrees while nighttime temperatures hover around 40 degrees. Soil temperature also affects morel mushroom growth, with soil temperatures between 45 and 50 degrees being ideal.
Along with a typically short growing season, another factor that can make morels a difficult find is the specific environments they grow in.
“To scout for early season morels, a seeker of the treasured, scrumptious fungi needs to look over any south-facing slopes of woodlands with loose soils and high humidity where sunlight can penetrate to the ground near decaying organic matter,” Wagner said.
Prime morel habits include dead or fallen trees, including cottonwoods, hackberries, box elders, elms or ashes that are found along river bottoms.
“I find that morels often grow around those dead and dying trees or their stumps where rays of sunlight can penetrate and some green vegetation can be seen,” Wagner said.
Another indicator of possible morel growth, according to Wagner, is finding hardwood trees such as cottonwoods that have reached the stage of decay where the bark is falling off of the trunk.
Although the fact that morels only grow during a short period of time in a relatively small amount of places, the act of collecting the mushrooms themselves is fairly simple.
“You don’t need much to begin mushroom hunting,” Nguyen said.
According to Nguyen, only a few simple items are essential when hunting for morels – a mesh bag and a pocket knife. She also recommends a walking stick, bug spray, sunglasses, sunscreen and a smartphone or GPS unit.
“Water, snacks, and if I’m going to make a long day of it, I pack a light lunch to enjoy in the quiet woods or by a river or stream,” she said.
The mesh bag is important because it allows the mushrooms to “breathe” or stay fresh, as well as will allow collected mushrooms to drop their spores onto the forest floor ensuring propagation of future morels. The pocketknife is important in the actual harvesting process to avoid taking out the entire root system of the morel.
Along with the thrill of the hunt, another reason why morel hunters love the activity is being able to cook and eat the freshly picked fungi.
Morels should always be cooked before eating and the most popular way to prepare them are to soak in water to clean off soil and debris and then to, either batter fry the morels, or to simply sauté with butter and herbs.
Wagner also reminded that anyone going morel hunting on private land must get permission, whether it is posted or not, before doing so. Also hobby picking for morel mushrooms is allowed on NGPC-owned and controlled properties, unless signed otherwise.
For more information on morels, and morel hunting in NebraskarRefer to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Morel Mushroom Report: Outdoornebraska.org/morel.
Andrea Svoboda hopes to help area residents ditch fad diets.
And get back to the basics.
March is National Nutrition Month and as part of that observance, registered dietitians at Fremont Health are presenting a free program.
The program is designed to help participants focus on basic, research-backed nutrition and exercise information.
It will include a short food demonstration and tasting.
“Back to the Basics” is planned from noon to 1 p.m. March 21 on the third floor of Fremont Health Medical Center’s Health Park Plaza.
While there is no cost to attend, registration is required as space is limited. To register call, 402-727-3707.
Those who attend can review the My Plate tool and learn tips for having a healthier lifestyle.
While some may opt for fad diets and trends, those options don’t work because they often promise quick fixes or promote behaviors that aren’t sustainable, said Svoboda, a registered dietitian.
“Living at a healthy weight requires a healthy lifestyle, which includes a multitude of factors, including healthy eating and being active,” Svoboda said.
In part of the program, Svoboda will share information on the My Plate tool.
“It’s a tool to help find a healthy eating style for any age, any population,” she said.
Svoboda added that the theme of National Nutrition Month is “Go Further With Food.”
“It could mean we’re going to go further with food by eating breakfast at the beginning of our day,” Svoboda said.
Or it could mean making meals in advance so they can be enjoyed throughout the week.
“We’re going to talk about planning, how we can be successful in planning our meals using the tool of the ‘My Plate’ to help us go further with food,” Svoboda said.
Svoboda invites area residents to attend the one-hour program.
“I hope they attend to receive reliable information that they can in turn put into everyday practice,” she said.
She stressed the value of evidence-based practice advocated by nutritional experts.
“Eating healthy is a lifestyle change that needs to be sustainable for the rest of our lives,” Svoboda said. “It’s not the quick fix we see sensationalized by a lot of fad diets.”
FPS staff members are planning a first-ever “Graduation Walk” event, which would bus graduating high school seniors out to their old elementary schools in their caps and gowns to visit with younger students.
The event, which is still in its early planning stages, is slated to take place on May 9 and aims to inspire younger elementary students to graduate. It also gives seniors a chance to visit their elementary schools one last time before graduating and take pride in their accomplishments.
Michelle Schleicher, a reading teacher at Linden Elementary School who is helping organize the event, said that in visiting their old schools, seniors will be able to get young kids excited about graduation, showing them that it is possible through hard work.
It will also allow the seniors to “take pride in what they’ve accomplished and go back to their elementary schools and show their teachers and show the kids that ‘hey we did it, and you can do it, too,’” she said.
“My vision is walking through the hall in your cap and gown, connecting with those kids, connecting with your teachers,” Schleicher added. “But we are really in the planning stages since it’s new this year.”
The idea has been tossed around for years, Schleicher said. After Schleicher heard about it, she decided to push forward with it.
“I’m a Fremont employee,” she said. “But then also, I am a mom. I have three kids that go to Fremont Public Schools, and that was kind of a driving force also, was seeing I have a sophomore and an eighth-grader and a fourth-grader and just seeing them go through the school system.”
Right now, Schleicher and the other organizers are tracking down where the high school students went to elementary school. There are a lot of different people helping to organize the event — every elementary school will be involved in the organization process. Each school will “have their own ownership over what they want to do with the seniors that come back,” Schleicher said.
The organizers hope the event will become an annual celebration.