Mushrooms flourish on Catoctin Mountain
Foragers spot bounty in Frederick County
Louis Bugler, 45, who lives near Sugarloaf Mountain in southern Frederick County, sold four pounds of black morels he picked himself to a downtown Frederick restaurant last month.
There are "certainly hundreds" of locals interested in mushrooms, he said.
"Everybody's got a different spot," Bugler said last week. "And no one likes to divulge their spots."
A remodeler by day, he has been foraging actively for about 10 years and has four spots near Sugarloaf Mountain, one by the Potomac River and one on Catoctin Mountain Park that he discovered four years ago.
That spot, he said, "apparently is a very well known one, even though I stumbled across it by myself."
He found his first morel when he was backpacking in his teens.
"There's nothing to it," Bugler said. "You see one, then you know."
For another two weeks, foragers will be scouring terrain for wild, fungal delicacies at Catoctin Mountain Park, where visitors are allowed to collect a half-gallon of morels per person, per day, according to Becky Loncosky, the park's lone biologist.
No morels were evident in April near the park's Catoctin Research Institute, a 1930s Works Progress Administration lodge constructed from American Chestnuts. The institute, located at Round Meadow, is where much of the behind-the-scenes work of the park originates, and is where Loncosky works.
The park has a small enclosed plot of forest waiting for morels, where scientists from universities in Arkansas and Toronto sample the mushrooms' DNA. The testing will determine whether yellow, black, white and gray morels are all the same species or not, according to Loncosky.
Foragers stand out by parking cars along remote park roads, as opposed to hiking through or sticking to designated parking lots, she said. The park does not inspect mushroom harvests, nor does it supply people with visual aids for distinguishing morels from other mushrooms.
Morels, once spotted, don't need much close examination – they look like elongated brains on stems, rather than pedestals or caps, Loncosky said.
"I don't think [foragers] have to be experts," she said. "It's just something that's been shown to them by other family members."
Picking a morel is "like picking a berry," she said, because the exposed mushroom sprouts from a submerged body that will grow new mushrooms perennially.
According to the Georgia-based Morel Mushroom Hunting Club, the mushrooms have been reported as growing in the lower Midwest and much of the Mid-Atlantic, excluding Maryland. The mushrooms appear about when the leaves of oak trees are the size of squirrels' ears, according to Loncosky, and start to shrivel up in mid-May.
Bryan Voltaggio, owner/chef of downtown Frederick's Volt restaurant, said recently by e-mail that Volt is using sautéed morels to accompany a goat cheese ravioli dish this season. He gets his mushrooms from local foragers.
"They typically call us, ask if we're interested and bring them to the kitchen for us to check them out for quality and size, etc.," he wrote in an e-mail to The Gazette.
E-mail Jeremy Hauck at firstname.lastname@example.org.