Morel mushrooms are a delicacy and a sought-after food in kitchens worldwide.
My first introduction to morels
I remember the time growing up in Switzerland when each spring my dad got on his old bicycle and went to some secret spot in the forest to harvest a bagful of morels.
Centuries later I came across morels while hiking on my property in the Okanagan, Canada with a mushroom picker friend. For many years before the first morel discovery on my land, I walked around the same area, but I never looked down to the ground to see the delicious camouflage mushrooms.
My interest in foraging wild food
In recent years foraging wild food has become a hobby of mine. Still, I never connected morel mushroom picking with the Yukon.
Before I came back to Yukon this year I searched for a book on foraging in the north and Arctic Plants but never got to purchase one. Instead, I took along the British Columbia “Edible and Medicinal Plants Canada” book and the “Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms” by David Arora just in case I needed a reference, and I’m glad I did.
Lack of fresh food supply in the north
I often wondered how people survive in the north with not having fresh food available as we do in the southern parts of Canada. Not all communities across Canada’s north have a grocery store. Gas stations sometimes offer juice, pop and packaged food. For many northerners, this means driving for hours and hundreds of kilometres to get a fresh food supply.
Another problem with the northern food supply is that fruit and vegetables don’t stay fresh for long because of the long travel time. And on top of that, fruit and vegetable prices are shockingly high. Therefore, foraging wild food in the north makes sense.
I know for sure, harvesting wild food would be a way of adding to my food supply for the long winter months if I would live in Yukon permanently.
Of course, harvesting is limited to the short Yukon summer. But in the land of the midnight sun there are plenty of daylight hours to get out there into the wild to harvest wild food and freeze, can or dry it, and stock up for the long, dark winter months.
How I found out about the precious morels in the Yukon
Last year on my way to Keno City I watched the wildfires roar in a distance but I never imagined that I would be picking morels a year later in these burnt areas.
During my long road trip north up the Stewart Cassiar Highway #37 this year, the last week of June, I met other travellers on their way to the Yukon. I quickly found out that morel mushroom harvesting in areas where wildfires burnt the year before was the reason for many to travel north. This, of course, sparked my interest.
When I arrived at my Keno City destination I heard the locals talk about the abundance of morels and the areas where they could be found.
I learned, that every spring, Yukoners venture to their favourite harvesting places, which are often closely kept secrets, to pick morels. For some, it’s to enjoy them as part of their diet, for others to sell and make some money.
I feel privileged that Yukon locals shared their knowledge with me, told me where the burnt areas were and how to get there.
What you need to know about mushroom picking in the Yukon
To commercially harvest morel mushrooms in the Yukon you will need a permit, which is free of charge.
If you are harvesting for your own use, you don’t need a permit.
Morels emerge in the spring following a forest fire. Check out last year’s wildfire maps to see potential picking areas
You can only harvest mushrooms on vacant public land.
Stay away from First Nations lands.
If you travel to rural Yukon communities, be respectful when you’re there.
Identifying and eating wild mushrooms
Identify morels with up-to-date mushroom guides or better yet, go out with an experienced mushroom picker.
Morels are easily recognized by their hollow, honeycombed cap that is intergrown with the stalk along its full length.
All morels should be cooked for at least 5 minutes before eating. Don’t eat them raw.
Watch out for the “false morels” which are dangerously poisonous.
Morel mushroom picking lesson
A rough side road off The Silver Trail took me to the edge of one of the burnt areas of last year’s wildfires. I wasn’t there alone. A couple of mushroom buyers had set up their camps nearby.
Soon after I arrived, appeared from between the burned tree skeleton with a full basket of Morels. Mike introduced himself as a professional mushroom picker and buyer with years of mushroom picking experience. He can be hired for mushroom harvesting excursions.
As soon as I shared the fact that I’m new to picking morels, he followed me between the blackened trees and gave me a short lesson, what to look for and which morels to pick. He assured me that my bucket would be full within an hour. And he was right, it didn’t take me long to fill up my metal pail.
Harvesting the morels
It was fantastic walking around the ghostly burned forest and harvesting absolutely delicious food, for free.
Morel harvesting takes place at different Crown land locations each year, depending on the burn of the previous year.
After filling my bucket I walked down to Mike’s secluded campsite next to the lake surrounded by burned forest. It somehow looked eery but beautiful. I noticed all the new plants emerge and begin to flourish all over the burnt forest and that is pretty special to see.
A mushroom picker’s camp
Camping in a burned area might not sound like the most enjoyable experience, but Mike Boudreau looked quite content.
Mike’s basic camp setup seemed to be self-sufficient and quite comfortable for a few weeks of outdoor life. He had various mushroom drying systems in use from wire racks, constructed in front of the log shack as well as in tents and in his car.
It proves again that people with this kind of lifestyle need to be innovative and flexible to make things work.
I fully enjoyed my day of mushroom hunting in the Yukon, walking around in the woods breathing the fresh air and taking home a pail of delicious wild food.
For the serious mushroom hunters out there, this is a great way to stay fit and make some money on the side!
Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
I first encountered mushroom hunters while traveling through Canada to the lower 48. It was interesting to see all the people parked on the side of the road.