Elaine Adams tells me she has only found 230 morels (dryland fish/mushrooms) this year and doesn’t really expect to find any more there in her secret patch of woods in Laurel County. My little brother, Steve, says that he has found 30, mostly around the edge of his yard at Hotspot.
Steve said he’d actually found 31, but that he had left one standing “for seed.” I told Steve that I’d bet good money that Elaine could come on his place, walk over where he’d already hunted,
and find at least 30 more. The only other human with whom I’ve hunted dryland fish who was probably as sharp eyed as Elaine at finding them was the late William McClure in Rockcastle County.
I have stood elbow-toelbow, deep in the early springwoods beside both of them and had them ask, “How many can you see from right here, right now?” Usually I could not see a single one while either Elaine or William would tell me they could see up to a dozen or more and then they would proceed to pick them. I have accused both that they were willing them to come up on the spot just to spite me.
One fellow, whose first name I have temporarily forgotten but his last name was Linville and he lived in eastern Rockcastle County near the corner horn where it borders with both Jackson and Rockcastle County, once had them (late 1970s, early ‘80s) coming up by the hundreds all over his yard and orchard.
Every year he would let half a dozen or so stand for a few days until they started to dry up. Then he would pick them, making sure he got the entire plant, bottom and all, freeze them hard as rocks, wrap them in a paper towel, still frozen, and pound them to smithereens with a butcher knife handle. Then he would scatter the tiny crumbs around his place and even tear the towel to shreds he hid under leaves in his fencerow and in the orchard.
I’m not sure if that’s the reason he had his own little dryland fish plantation, but I do know that he repeated the process year in and year out because I’ve watched him do it. I also know that he had far, far more in that one little acre spot than I’ve ever seen found in a 400- acre forest after an entire day of hunting with a team of experts.
William McClure, however, was dubious about propagating morels. William always told me to pick every one you can find because there are going to be that many more that you don’t find and they’re the ones that will make sure there are more in years to come. He believed that Mr. Linville had such an abundance because they had found a patch of ground they really loved and that they would keep coming back even if Mr. Linville hadn’t done a thing to help them along in the regeneration business.
Anyway, about 1990 or ‘91 or so, about this time of year, I went back to the Linville place and discovered that he had gone on over to that great dryland fish patch in the sky. His old house, little barn and orchard were long gone and a pretty little doublewide with a white picket fence sat on a gradedflat lot where his place had been. I didn’t even bother to stop and ask whoever was living there if they’d found any mushrooms because the ‘shrooms would have had to sprout through several feet of disturbed soil. I doubt that they can do that.
My first experience with morels happened when I was in first or second grade. Mom’s cousin, McKinley “Kinley” Adams, his wife Ruth and only son, Ronnie (my age,) had just moved back to Blair Branch from rural southern Indiana and our families had hiked to the top of the mountain for an Easter picnic/walkabout.
A mine road dead-ended at the edge of Pap’s (my Grandpa Mose Adams) old mountaintop apple orchard where the trees were all dead and rotting and Kinley spotted a morel (he called them cow teats). Somehow he convinced my parents that these things were not only good to eat, but, in fact a delicacy that could only be had in late March and April.
Mom had to watch him eat a couple to make sure they didn’t kill him before she was willing to try them, but once we found out how delicious they were, hunting mushrooms was my brother’s and my favorite thing to do this time of year.
We later discovered that just about everybody, besides us, on the holler knew about “cow teats”, but kept the information to themselves because they didn’t want any competition when it came time to hunt for them.