Spring ritual: Mushroom mania strikes county
This spring has been a mushroom hunter's dream.
The recent cycle of warm temperatures, followed by hours of rain and cooler weather, has coaxed morel mushrooms out of the ground.
As the morel season winds down, serious mushroom hunters are hitting their favorite spots a few last times.
"It's the thrill of the hunt," said Gene Hill, who farms about four miles south of Easton. "I like to walk up to a tree and look and see all those big mushrooms in there and start picking. I like to hunt the best, but I like to eat them, too. And it's real good exercise."
Hill is an old hand at mushroom hunting. The 67-year-old, who also hunts beefsteaks and elephant ear mushrooms, says he's been at it for 61 years. This time of year, he and his son, Tony, who lives in Lansing, grab plastic grocery sacks and head west of Easton, on the hunt for morels.
"It depends on how long I hunt," Hill said, "but I usually get from 30 to 50 pounds. During the season, I go every day."
On Tuesday, though, Hill stayed home. His wife insisted.
"I've got to catch up on some work around here," he said. "I've neglected my yard."
But before the season's over, Hill will venture out a few more times.
Hill explained that his wife fries floured mushrooms, puts them on a cookie sheet and freezes them for three to four hours.
"Then she bags them and puts them back in the freezer," he said.
When the Hills want to eat morels, they simply spread the frozen mushrooms on a cookie sheet and bake them.
"They're just like they are when they come out of the woods," Hill said. "We eat them pretty much all winter."
Another Leavenworth County morel enthusiast Butch Krouse made an unusual find on Saturday. He and a companion discovered a one-pound morel that measured 11 inches long and five inches wide. The discovery was made in a washout on a creek bank.
"It was so big it was trying to fall over, growing out the side of that bank," Krouse said.
The 46-year-old cabinet maker's been hunting mushrooms since he was 12.
"That was the biggest one I've ever picked," he said. "That was the king of all times. The weight of that thing is what blows me away. We called it the humongous fungus."
Often, Krouse fries floured mushrooms in butter. Sometimes, he sautes them in butter, foregoing the flour. Usually, Krouse dries a good portion of his bounty, banking it for future meals.
"The big one, though, I don't know because it's so big and thick and heavy, I may just eat it," he said.
For the past six years, Cammie Marceaux, McLouth, has combed the woods for mushrooms at her own "secret spot." Last week, she and her daughters, Kaytlynn and Kari, scouted around and came back with 110 juicy morels.
Marceaux said the haul wasn't the sign of a bumper crop.
"It could have been bigger, but we still have the rest of the week to find them," Marceaux said.
And what does she do with her finds?
"I soak them in salt water for two days," Marceaux said. "It gets all the tiny little bugs out."
And then, she dips the mushrooms in egg and milk, salt and pepper and fries them like chicken.
"It's just like eating steaks," Marceaux said.