Picking morels in a burnt down forest

Sometimes you need to go a little farther than the kitchen, or even the grocer, to get some truly local ingredients.

In July of 2009, The Terrace Mountain fire near Fintry, BC covered 4,400 hectacres and was less than 500 meters from residential areas. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured. And with all things in nature, they grow back. The spring after a large fire is a botanical explosion as life returns to the landscape.

Enter James, IT manager, part time Sasquatch hunter, and wild mushroom aficionado. He’s had quite the bevy of outdoor experience, teaching us the art of constructing the perfect bear-safe food storage, or collecting mussels from the beach on the Sunshine Coast. In the nineties he planted trees in the Yukon which is where he first learned of the specific growing conditions of the sought after morel mushroom. It’s a species coveted by chefs, and very difficult to cultivate, as a result, most of its harvest comes from the wild. It does however proliferate after a large forest fire in certain situations, for example, the spring after a large fire like on Terrace Mountain.

The morel is both a culinary gem and easily differentiated as an edible species. With an unusual cratered surface, brown colouring and tall shape distinguish it from the more typical smooth, light coloured cap and squatness of many fungii. Perhaps the closest imposter is the false morel, which is still easily distinguishable and not generally poisonous. As such, the morel is a great target for a novice mushroom hunter.

November, 2009: Poring over BC Forestry maps, Google earth terrain, and considering transportation options such as quads and horses, James and I plan out our mission: to find the motherlode of morel mushrooms and make amazing dishes with them.

May, 2010: Based on a number of factors (elevation, snow line, weather) we determined this was the best time to conduct our mission.

June, 2010: Due to some delays in coordinating our schedules, we felt that we had maybe missed the optimal weekend to go search for mushrooms. Nevertheless, seeing the weather hold, we selected a mild weekend in mid June to conduct our mission.

Even as a novice mushroom hunter, I know not to divulge the exact locations of our hunt, but I will say we were extremely lucky to find quantities of fungii way beyond my amateur expectations. There’s something quite rewarding to planning something out and actually succeeding, which is a pretty rare thing.