Tag Archives: secret

The Morel of the Story

April 5, 2017 by
Photography by Doug Meigs
Illustration by Mady Besch

Morel-mania usually begins around mid-to-late April. Inconsistent Midwestern weather prevents forecasting the exact start of morel mushroom season year-to-year.

Morel (aka morchella) mushrooms begin to flush en masse when spring rains alternate with patches of sunshine atop warming ground temperatures.

Morels are distinctive and easy to identify, with their porous and sponge-like brownish heads atop tan/white stems. Their caps might also be described as honeycombed and cone-shaped; they come in grey (smaller) and yellow (larger) varieties.

Foodies covet the delicious morsels of fungal delight. Morels are known for a unique nutty flavor. Popular recipes include: battered and deep-fried, scrambled with eggs, used as garnish, or dried for later consumption.

As a general rule, the morel season coincides with the blooming of lilacs. Morels also return to the same place every year—if their mycelium underground remains healthy. That means avid mushroom hunters often keep their favorite spots a secret.

If you see one morel, stop. Slow down and scan the ground. They grow in clusters. Morels hide in the deep woods, near the bases of old-growth trees, overturned trunks, and decomposing vegetation. They pop from grassy areas, near the banks of rivers, and on hillsides.

Along with monitoring lilac bushes, paying attention to the weather forecast helps foragers to prepare for morel season. Be ready for periods of sudden downpours of rain combined with warm daytime temperatures (70 degrees or more) and nights that linger above 40 degrees for at least four days in a row.

If you anticipate a sunny day following a torrential spring downpour, get ready. Put on your rain jacket, and rush to your favorite mushrooming spot as soon as the rains lift.

Grab some good mud boots (or old sneakers), and make sure you have a mesh bag that allows the mushrooms’ spores to escape and spread. Local outdoors shops sell mesh bags for morels. Onion or potato sacks from the grocery store also work well.

If you’ve never been mushroom hunting, it’s time to start begging friends to show you how. Or, do a little research and go explore any publicly accessible backwoods along local rivers.

There are several popular local destinations for morel hunters. But any densely vegetated public land (with plenty of overturned trees) along the Missouri River or Platte River could yield a plentiful haul of morels. That is, if the area hasn’t been picked over already.

The website morels.com hosts a useful and interesting Nebraska forum. Other useful resources can be found at thegreatmorel.com, morelhunters.com, and the “Nebraska Morels” Facebook group.

Beware of gun-toting hunters in the woods. Morel season corresponds with the spring turkey hunting season. Also, avoid trespassing. Common courtesy (and the law) necessitates seeking permission to hunt for mushrooms on private property.

Remember that wild mushrooms can be deadly. Only pick and cook mushrooms you can identify with complete confidence. Search online for “false morels” and make sure you can tell the difference. False morels are poisonous.

In 2016, the website of Nebraska Game and Parks maintained weekly morel reports from April 13 through May 11. The Game and Parks website also provides tips for locating morels, and even suggests a few popular mushroom hunting grounds.

Proactive scouting is a good strategy—if only to monitor the human traffic in the woods. The morel season around Omaha usually only lasts from two to four weeks, depending on weather conditions. Sometimes the peak of the season takes place in May.

Evidence of over-picked stems and decaying mushrooms indicate that the morel season is well progressed.

Remember: if you share a mushroom hunting spot with a “friend,” there is a very good chance they will tell someone else. Then, all those other folks might just go pick all the morels while you’re stuck at work, in school, or caught in some other less fulfilling endeavor.

Heed the moral of this morel story. When the lilacs bloom, somebody is probably picking over your favorite morel grounds. So, if you’ve got a good spot, consider keeping it a secret.

Visit outdoornebraska.gov/morel for more information.

Morel Mushroom Hunting Sites

Suggested by Nebraska Game and Parks:

Public areas near rivers:

  • Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
  • Indian Cave State Park
  • Louisville State Recreation Area
  • Platte River State Park
  • Schramm Park State Recreation Area
  • Two Rivers State Recreation Area

Old-growth forests and creeks at:

  • Branched Oak State Recreation Area
  • Burchard Wildlife Management Area
  • Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area
  • Pawnee Lake State Recreation Area
  • Twin Lakes Wildlife Management Area
  • Yellow Banks Wildlife Management Area

 

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Choose Your Own Adventure

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ted and Wally’s. Tannenbaum Christmas Shop. The Passageway. These are staples of Omaha’s historic Old Market neighborhood. But what if you looked beyond the traditional to find the hidden heart of downtown? Do you dare venture down the road less traveled to find the secret spaces and hidden gems of the Old Market?

You are traveling down 10th Street, looking for an outdoor space to spend the warm, fall afternoon, when you stumble upon Lucile’s Old Market. This historic, two-story, brick building is wrapped with an iron gate and was originally owned by Lucile Schaaf, an architectural salvager. You remember being told there is a courtyard somewhere near her home, but all you see is a 10-foot-high brick wall.

You sneak down the alley between Jackson and Howard streets, only to find a large, locked, wooden gate. Disappointment seizes you, until you notice an iron grate in part of the brick wall. You decide to take a peek.

Terracotta landscape pavers line the three-tiered garden, and ivy consumes each wall. Grass and beautiful flowers overflow the 2,600-square-foot space, sharing occupancy with architectural pieces like two griffin wings, salvaged from the old First National Bank building. The wings form a walkway to the third level of the garden.

You hadn’t noticed, but the owner of Lucile’s, a man named Brian, has come up behind you.

“We have the only private backyard in the Old Market that includes grass and flowers. It’s just priceless; it’s literally priceless,” Brian says. He goes on to tell you that the courtyard is only accessible if you have a private event at Lucile’s. You decide to go on with your day, content with having enjoyed a view into the small paradise.

You’ve had enough of walking around, and decide that catching a movie sounds nice. Unfortunately, there is no movie theater in the Old Market. But you have heard about a tiny theater inside Fairmont Antique & Mercantile Store on 12th and Jackson streets.

Winding through stalls of vintage signs and retro clothing, you come across the theater, a walled-off section complete with marquee, deep in the heart of the store. It plays movies on Saturdays and Sundays. You recall what a friend, Alicia Smith Hollins, told you about her experience seeing Jack White play in the theater last August.

“The small, vintage venue felt more like where you should see Jack White play than a big auditorium. It was the coolest thing I have ever seen in Omaha,” says Smith Hollins, who was previously unaware that the theater existed.

After sitting through The Goonies, you are ready for a night on the town. You call up a few friends and decide to go bar-hopping. However, none of you are keen on anything rowdy or loud, so you attempt to confirm rumors about a speakeasy-type place. It’s hidden under the Indian Oven restaurant at 10th and Howard streets.

When you and your friends arrive at the restaurant, you notice that two horse statues are lit in the window. You’ve heard that this means the basement bar is making drinks that night. You enter the basement to find a cozy, newly renovated space.

“It’s a calm atmosphere that’s about celebrating the drinks and the conversations going on,” says Binoy Fernandez, the I.O. Speak’s owner and bartender. He talks with passion about how the I.O. Speak focuses on craft cocktails, drinks that go beyond standard two-ingredient mixers and that take a little longer to concoct.

Fernandez chats with your group to find out what each of you are looking for in a drink tonight. This is standard practice in the bar, he explains. Based on what customers enjoy drinking, he can provide recommendations from his list of pre-Prohibition and Prohibition-era drinks. For such special cocktails, he and other bartenders only use fresh-squeezed juice and syrups, bitters, and even ice made inhouse.

“[Old Market residents] are a great set of people that have, throughout the years, shown a willingness to try new things out, and, in a large way, to be the trendsetters of what’s happening in the Omaha community,” Fernandez explains as he makes your drinks. “Them, and the history of the Old Market, when speakeasies were running down here, make this the perfect place for my concept.”

You head home from the bar, content in knowing that you took the road less traveled. You found the Old Market’s diamonds in the rough.