Slow morel season crimps Traverse City eatery’s menu

Danielle Woodward
Traverse City Record-Eagle

Traverse City — Morel mushrooms have become a popular ingredient at The Cook’s House, but this year they may not even be on the menu.

Lack of rain and dipping temperatures in the region made foraging for the exotic mushroom difficult in May, usually its primary window for growth.

“It’s not looking so good this season,” said Eric Patterson, co-owner and chef at The Cook’s House, 115 Wellington St. “Nobody’s contacted us, they’re just not out.”

Executive Director of Midwest American Micology Information Chris Wright also said the region’s morel season has been especially slow this year. The mushroom’s growth, fueled by a rainy spring and daytime temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees, typically starts in southern Michigan and moves its way up, he said.

“It seems like it’s been a little delayed,” Wright said. “The temperature has been low and dry, so sometimes it takes time to recover.”

The lack of local offerings has caused some restaurants to search outside the region for morels. Foragers coming from downstate have come to the regions selling hauls of white morels for $75 per pound, and black morels for between $50 and $60, said Jim Moses, who sells wild mushrooms at the Traverse City Farmers Market.

“Morels are the mushroom that I deal with the least, but from the people I know and talk to, we haven’t had a great season here,” Moses said.

That means no morel mushrooms, at least for now, at The Cook’s House, which doesn’t plan to bring in morels from outside the region.

“Our season is so fleeting, it’s once a year, and that’s what makes it such a cool thing,” Patterson said. “I think you lose that if you import them from somewhere else.”

This year’s morel shortage comes only a few years after Michigan began cracking down on the wild mushroom industry. The state’s food code required foragers to have wild mushroom identification certification, but did not offer a means of training. Midwest American Mycological Information began offering a $175 training program shortly after, which grants state-recognized certification for five years upon successful completion, Wright said.

“The whole industry has just been in kind of a jumble the past few years,” Moses said. “It all worked together to limit things, and we just kind of had a bad season this year.”

The state has 198 certified wild mushroom foragers, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. But legislation introduced in March by Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, could exempt morel foragers from having to obtain the certification by removing that mushroom from the food code.