Sunday, 8 June 2014


Until moving north, my morel-finding experiences had been a series of rare occasions, mostly in spring, when I stumbled across a little patch of morels, maybe 3 - 5, poking up out of the leaf litter in deciduous forest. Delicate and scarce, I'd pick maybe 2/3 of the patch, leaving the rest to do whatever it was they were going to do, and carefully carry the rest home for some very decadent, usually egg- or cream-based supper. This has happened up here a time or two as well (though trade deciduous for black spruce). In Yukon, however, the real mushroom bonanza happens the year after a forest fire, for about three weeks starting in late May. This, then, is what that looks like:

Last year's fire.
Last year was the first hot, dry summer in a couple of years. The fire cycle's quick here, so there were a few big burns - they filled parts of the summer with enough smoke to turn mid-July afternoons into eerie twilight. Two of the bigger burns were along the Robert Campbell Highway, which had this year's hopeful mushroom pickers eagerly waiting. Having heard a few good reports, my friend Shauna (plus dog Athena) and I headed for the closer of the two burns.

News of how busy these burns were wasn't wrong; the morel price is very good this year ($12 - $14/lb for fresh, clean morels) as there's a pretty low global supply this year, and these burns are big, with lots of mushrooms.

Digression - the global supply's oddly relevant; the buyers set up at this burn were expediting boxes of morels purchased from pickers to the Whitehorse airport, where they'd hit the next flight to Vancouver, be cleaned and sorted, then flown fresh to Europe and Asia. Apparently, a couple of wet years in Siberia mean that these burns in central Yukon are one of the only spots on Earth for a ready supply of fresh morels right now.

We accessed the burn from the closest of many access points, but there were nearly 100 vehicles parked there, and dozens of boats were ferrying pickers across the river, where the bulk of the burn was. Word was the going rate for the five-minute ferry was $20 (or 1.53 lbs of morels) a head, but we had a canoe, and so crossed under our own steam and set up camp, about a kilometer from the burn edge.

Mushroom City docks
Hiking toward the burn, I figured I knew what I was looking for. I've only done this kind of morel-hunting once before, and I quickly learned that the ideal grounds for forest-fire morel picking are well-drained soils, under black spruce that have been killed by fire, but haven't been burned so intensely as to burn off all the needles. By the following spring, though, the needles on the dead trees have fallen off, making an orange carpet over the burned ground. Reaching the edge of the burn, ideal conditions seemed to be the rule, rather than exception - the whole ground was covered in dead needles. Also, it was covered in morels.

As far as the eye can see.

Things basically continued like this for the rest of the day. I've never seen morel densities like this before - it had the odd effect of rendering them mentally less valuable than the precious little rarities I grew up occasionally finding. Cue more morel shots:

As you can imagine, picking morels fistfuls at a time means they add up quickly.

Athena's attitude toward morels, summed up.

Yukon haul shot.
Our final tally for a reasonably leisurely afternoon of picking was three full five-gallon buckets. I kept one for myself, and sold another - 11.77 lbs for $142. I imagine, given a whole day and a reasonably determined outlook, it would be possible to pick four or five buckets per day. If the weather holds, I'm heading back; there are some frivolous things I want to buy (I'm looking at you, Arctic Oven), and this'd be just the money to do it with.