When my little brother was two or three, he picked something out of the yard and ate it. We had no idea what. "A yellow stick," he told our mother, who worried it was some kind of poisonous mushroom. I remember her holding him on a wooden swing, smoothing his hair while she waited for the Ipecac she had given him to make him puke.
Our parents sometimes cooked with mushrooms, and I refused to eat them. So did my brother, after I told him, with kid gross-out cadence, that—eeew—they were a fungus. But I grew up and developed a taste for shiitakes and porcinis, and last year I discovered the delight of finding fungi—huitlacoche, on Silver Queen sweet corn. Delicious.
This winter, while visiting a farm in Carmel, California, I inoculated logs with maitake spores, and I came back to Washington ready for spring and a chance to forage. Finding wild anything is a thrill: generic "fruit" on the old computer game Oregon Trail, beach plums, blueberries, pawpaws. It's like hunting, with all of the sport and none of the blood. Mushrooms, in their musky mystery, are prize game.
Morel season starts in April in the mid-Atlantic, and with an Audubon Society field guide, I headed for the woods. I had just seen scrumptious, wrinkly, honeycombed morels at Whole Foods for $30 a pound, and I was determined to find my own. As it turns out, not so easy.
Morels tend to grow near tulip trees, which I can spot thanks to a little training from my botanist boyfriend, Daniel. It's best to scan the ground at the base of the trees and around their drip lines, where water spills off the outermost leaves, like the edges of an umbrella.