MUSHROOM WHISPERER: Keyser man loves hunting for morels
When spring hits the Potomac Highlands and mushroom season begins, we all tend to think of those we know as the “mushroom whisperer,” the people who seem to be able to find the highly sought-after Morel mushrooms just about anywhere.
You know … the ones who make finding the wild mushrooms look easy, while the rest of us search far and wide and come up empty handed.
One local man’s name comes up over and over in the mushroom community - Zachary Minshall. Boone, as he is commonly known, is out and about every spring putting many miles under his feet each day in search of the mushrooms.
Morels, scientifically known as Morchella, are a distinctive fungi that have a honeycomb appearance due to the network of ridges with pits composing their caps. Described as a cone-shaped cap and sponge-like texture, they typically grow between 2-4 inches tall. The caps stand erect and range in color from pale cream to almost black with a well-defined pitted texture.Morels are hollow and have a white- to pale cream-colored stem.
Morels are prized by gourmet cooks, particularly in French cuisine. They are considered top-tier mushrooms, due to their depth and earthy, nutty flavor. They also have a meaty texture, unlike the more slimy texture of other mushroom, making them a local favorite as well.
Boone says he has been hunting mushrooms for a long time and says they are so sought after because there is no known way to cultivate them.
“You can’t grow them in a greenhouse environment,” he says.
Even those who pay for the kits or the mold spores don’t have much luck it seems.
For Boone, it is more than just a love of morels, or a love of the hunt. As an outdoorsman, he has always found a reason to be in the woods. From deer hunting, turkey hunting, morel hunting, or ginseng hunting, Boone says any reason to be in the woods is a good reason.
“My father used to say that a bad day in the woods hunting was better than a good day in the office,” he recalls.
Boone says he tells people all the time that the turkey is the bonus, the deer is the bonus, the morel is the bonus; the real treat is getting to be in the woods.
He says that morel hunting is now a family tradition for him. “I look forward to going out with my son and spending time with him and his mom whether we find anything or not,” he explains.
Not finding anything has never seemed to be a problem for Boone, however. His luck in finding the mushrooms has come from years of experience and from learning all he could about morels.
“I was like a sponge,” said Boone. “Absorbing and learning all I could about morels and where they would grow.
A quick google search tells you what types of trees they like, and then you learn to identify those trees. Boone says that even in off season you will be looking for those trees for new places to hunt.
‘I look for more moist environments,” he says. “I look lower in the beginning season and higher at the end of season.”
He also says that soil temp is important; the ground needs to start warming up.
Yet the most important advice Boone says he can give is there is no substitute form miles traveled. “Nothing beats the miles you put under your feet,” he said. He says the more you walk, the more you look, the more you will find. “I put four and five miles under my feet in a few hours searching,” he says.
He also suggests working with a partner and splitting the finds 50/50. “Two pair of eyes are better than one, and four feet cover more miles than two.”
That is exactly what Boone has found with friend Jim Trottier, who owns the Full Circle Mushroom Farm in Purgitsville.
“He lives the mushroom life all year round,” says Boone. “It has been a great relationship. We split everything regardless of who finds more, because the other guy put in the foot miles and the tough uphill walking same as the one who stumbled onto more of them.”
So when asked how many mushrooms he finds each season, Boone says it is hard to say because they don’t count. ”Thousands for sure, but we go by weight,” he says. “We go by pounds which makes it a lot easier than counting, and we have found 32 pounds in two half-day trips searching.” Boone says every year is different.
So what does he do with all the mushrooms? It’s simple: he eats a lot of them. “We batter and fry them, sauté them, we do cream of morel soup, lasagna, chili’ the possibilities are unlimited,” he says.
“I know some see this as the new trendy thing to do, but if you give it a try, you will enjoy it.”
Boone says anyone can learn; you just got to get out there and look. “You can’t find them sitting on your couch,” says Boone. “Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, try new spots, just get out there and remember there is just as much disinformation out there as there is good information.
“There is just something magical about it,” he says. “I took my son out and he found a lot in one area, and called it the Magical Mushroom Mountain and I just loved it.”
For those thinking of starting morel hunting, there is plenty of information online to help. According to wideopenspaces.com, the nine best places to look are as follows: South-facing hillsides, ground disturbed by human or natural activity, logging areas, burn sites, loamy soil, old apple orchards, streams and creeks, dying trees, and elm, oak, ash, and popular trees.