- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

ASBURY, Iowa (AP) - Asbury resident Larry Roth is at home in the woods.

On a recent warm morning, Roth pushed past thorny limbs and fallen trees with ease, rarely breaking stride and always scanning his surroundings.

He told the Telegraph-Herald (https://bit.ly/1NA6q53 ) that he enjoys the outdoors and the exercise.

Most of all, though, he loves the morel mushrooms.

For Roth and other mushroom hunters, this time of year presents a golden opportunity to find the honeycomb-like fungi.

Morels generally start to appear in late April, and recent weather conditions could mean collectors are in store for a bumper crop this year.

“With the rain we got recently, and the sun and the warmth we’ve had the past couple days, this is prime time for finding morels,” Roth said.

On many days, Roth takes to Mines of Spain State Recreation Area in hopes of tracking down the mushrooms. On others, he hunts morels on his family’s farm in Bellevue.

But even when he isn’t searching for the fungi, Roth usually is surrounded by them.

A cement statue of morels is prominently featured on his front stoop; a bowl of mushrooms found earlier this year is kept in the refrigerator.

“To me, it really is a family thing,” he said.

Roth wears his love for morels on his sleeve - actually, right beneath left arm bears a tattoo of the mushroom, a symbol that represents generations of family interest.

Roth first hunted mushrooms in Maquoketa with his great-aunt and great-uncle when he was about 5 years old. He would later go with his father and his mother.

Roth’s mom, Mary Kay, sold morels she found around Bellevue, earning the nickname “Mushroom Mary” from local residents. Roth long shared his loved for morel hunting with his younger brother, Lonnie.

“We grew up doing everything together,” Larry said. “He’s like my right arm.”

Lonnie Roth has lived in Denver, Colorado, for the past 30 years, but he returns to Iowa for a two-week vacation each year to hunt, fish for catfish and search for morels.

“It’s part of our family history,” Lonnie said. “My grandma and grandpa hunted morels, our aunts and uncles did it, and now we’re passing it down to our nieces and nephews.”

Now 52, Larry Roth passed the tradition down to his daughter, Larissa, who often joins him on hunts.

And while passing the tradition down to a new generation is exciting, Larry Roth said, it just as important to honor those who have already gone.

His mother was buried with a bag of morel mushrooms, and Roth said he frequently visits the cemetery this time of year to place mushrooms on her grave.

Larry Roth will be the first to tell you morel hunting isn’t always easy.

“Sometimes, you find them right away,” he said. “Other times, it seems like you end up walking around forever.”

Trudging through the woods also can have its drawbacks.

Roth said he frequently comes home from the woods with thorns stuck in his skin and multiple scrapes on his arms and legs. Ticks also can latch onto one’s skin if proper clothing isn’t worn.

There were other times when Roth came close to stepping on turkey nests or baby deer.

“(Baby deer) are really quiet until you get real close to them,” Roth said. “I’ve almost stepped on them before.”

These concerns do not derail Roth’s desire to continue hunting, however.

Roth said he typically rolls his morels in egg and crackers and then fries them in butter. He also will dry the mushrooms, crush them, place them into a salt or pepper shaker and put them atop meats like steak.

He is confident there will be plenty of morels in his diet in the near future.

“This is going to be a good year,” he said.


Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com

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