A variety of mushrooms grow in Alaska, most of them interesting-looking and a few of them edible. While a guidebook can help identify the mushrooms found, many poisonous mushrooms look similar to edible ones. Consider going with an experienced mushroom collector when searching for edible mushrooms to avoid picking the wrong ones.
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Mushrooms consist of fruits growing from plants that live underground. Alaska offers a variety of mushrooms including gilled, teeth, coral, puffballs and morels. Most wild mushroom hunters search for edible morels. Edible morels feature whitish stems with fruits that resemble sponges on top. The fruits vary in color, ranging from gray to brown or black. Edible morels contain a hollow stem securely attached to the spongy part of the mushroom. Avoid false morels, since they’re poisonous.
Bring a mushroom identification guidebook on every mushroom hunting excursion to help identify the edible mushrooms. Carry a cloth bag, rather than a plastic bag, to hold the mushrooms, since cloth allows ventilation and helps keep the mushrooms in better condition. A compass also comes in handy if hunting in unfamiliar areas.
Some morels occur near the same locations year after year. Look in the forest, in abandoned orchards or along sandy soil near streams and creeks. Some morels occur after a major disturbance of the soil. One of the best places to look for this type of morel includes areas burned by forest fires. Look closely at spots where the litter on the ground burned away completely, leaving exposed bare ground. The morels may grow there, starting the year after the fire. If you see one morel, keep track of its location and look a few days later to see if more appear in that area. Also look after a rainfall to see if more mushrooms pop up. Start looking for morels in June when temperatures warm up enough to encourage the mushrooms to grow. At higher elevations, morels starting popping out in July.
Harvesting and Permits
In Alaska, a permit is not required to hunt for mushrooms on public lands, although regulations in state parks may differ. Make sure to ask for permission to hunt for mushrooms on private property. To harvest edible morels, snap them off just above the ground so the root mass stays in the soil. Then, carefully place the mushroom in a cloth bag and keep searching.
Fresh mushrooms need some cleaning to rid the tasty little morsels of dirt and insects. Once cleaned, try sautéing some in a little butter or add them to a favorite recipe. Some mushroom pickers slice up the mushrooms and freeze them for later use. Others dry the mushrooms and reconstitute them with a little water to make them soft and edible. Morels also work great in soups, stews, sauces and a variety of other dishes or on pizza.