The Morel of This Story Is a Mushroom

It took about an hour's hunting in Rock Creek Park for Washington architect George Houk to harvest two pounds of morel mushrooms, which are sprouting plentifully this year.
It took about an hour's hunting in Rock Creek Park for Washington architect George Houk to harvest two pounds of morel mushrooms, which are sprouting plentifully this year. (By Angus Phillips For The Washington Post)
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By Angus Phillips
Sunday, May 4, 2008

W here there's one there must be more,

One or two or three or four . . .

That's the little refrain George Houk repeats as he wanders the woods of Rock Creek Park these days, hunting morel mushrooms. He learned it from his grandma, Janey Price, when they used to go mushroom hunting near Petoskie, Mich., half a lifetime ago.

But not since he was 9 years old can Houk remember a year for morels like this one. "This is the best year I've had since then, no doubt," the 51-year-old architect said last week as he scoured the leaf-strewn hills of Northwest Washington for the heads of freshly sprouted morels poking through.

That's saying something. Houk won't forget the spring day 42 years ago when he and a half-dozen family and friends set forth in Michigan in a chilly drizzle. "We were wearing ponchos, but when we came back one kid didn't have his poncho anymore. We found so many morels, we had to take it to carry them.

"My brother and I started counting that day but gave up when we got to 2,002. We took every screen off the house and used them to dry morels. We were still eating them years afterwards."

Houk has been living in the District for 20 years. From the get-go, he eyed Rock Creek Park as a potential place to hunt the tasty wild mushrooms. When his oldest son was 3 years old and big enough to tag along, they went prospecting for the first time. "We found 30 black morels in a spot along a little shelf," he said, "and every year since then, that's the first place I go to gauge where we are in the season."

Morels generally pop up in April and black ones are the first to show, with grays and yellows coming later. Some years are better than others, largely because of weather, and this year has been just about perfect. "About a week ago I went in the woods for about an hour and came out with 150," said Houk, who is now up over 1,000 for the season. "I'm going to all my regular places, there's just lots more morels."

He credits the long, cool spring and generous, timely dollops of rain. "Some years around here, it seems like it just gets right, then suddenly it's 80 degrees and dry summer. You can measure springtime in hours."

Not so this year. Morels are everywhere, and not just where Houk is looking. A brief scan of the Web site Morels.com showed others in the region loading up. "This is really the peak of morels right now," wrote Mike D on the Maryland forum last week. "My wife and I have never seen anything like this year."

"Wow, what a year," writes a 'shroomer called Lew. "In the last two days I found about seven pounds."

"Anyone else sick of frying, draining, vacuum-sealing and freezing batches of morels?" asks someone called Patapsco Mike.


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