A heated disagreement more than 50 years ago sparked Boyne City’s National Morel Mushroom Festival … maybe.
“I can’t verify this,” said Jim Baumann, executive director of the Boyne Area Chamber, “but it supposedly started with some guys arguing about who could pick the most morel mushrooms.”
Quoting Tony Williams, a five-time morel hunting champion, Baumann said the initial challenge mushroomed into something else entirely.
“That argument turned into, ‘Yeah, well, I’ll see you tomorrow morning,’” he said. “And eventually, it became, ‘Let’s invite other people.’”
The first fest took just two days. Now, the fungus fun encompasses an entire weekend stuffed with events.
At the Taste of Morels event on Friday night, 12 area restaurants and caterers will sell $3 morel hors d’oeuvres, which will be judged through both the Judges’ Choice and Peoples’ Choice.
“This is the signature event of the festival,” Baumann said. “It always draws a big crowd.”
More morels in meals can be found at the fest’s Wine and Dine Tasting Dinner, which is $45 per person. There are two seatings on Friday night at the Beach House Restaurant at Boyne Mountain Resort.
Each seating features live entertainment and five gourmet hors d’oeuvres that are paired with five fine wines from Bayside Beverage, Baumann said.
Love the idea of mushrooming, but just not in the woods? Try The Great Morel Giveaway on Saturday, which Baumann said is another popular festival event.
After preregistering at select Boyne City stores, participants then join the 200-strong ‘Morel Mob,’ hitting each store for a special drawing. The winner at each store gets two pounds of morels or a $50 gift certificate.
Those needing even more activity can take part in the Charlevoix Area Humane Society’s 5K Run For Their Lives run, also on Saturday.
Or, mushroom heads can bypass all exercise entirely and head straight for the VFW’s morel breakfast, just before the National Mushroom Hunt’s 7:30am kickoff.
In a nod to the festival’s founding, experienced hunters will gather on Saturday in a 90-minute race to see who can find the most morels.
The fest also features daily carnival rides for the little kids. Bigger “kids” can hit the main tent to enjoy rockers Onager on Friday night and local favorite Audio Circus on Saturday night.
Sunday, the non-profit Northern Michigan Cancer Crusaders take over the tent with live music, an auction and edibles.
So why all of this fuss around a fungi, even one that’s become a foodie obsession?
“Morels are a great tasting delicacy,” Baumann said. “They are hard to find and they are only available for a few weeks a year.”
Those eager to try their own recipes can purchase bags of fresh morels for $20 to $60 a pound on the street during the festival.
“They are far more expensive out of season,” said Baumann.
Baumann said the dining events, the morel-hunting seminar, and Friday afternoon’s guided morel hunt are among the most popular events.
Pairing a gourmet rarity with a little friendly competition makes this fest a winwin, Baumann said.
“Creating a festival for a simple mushroom is kind of amazing, when you think about it,” he said. “I have been here for five festivals and have met people from England, Greece, Japan, Peru and Hawaii.
“The morel does draw people.”
Boyne City’s 2014 National Morel Mushroom Festival runs from May 15-18. A full schedule, tickets, and more can be found at bcmorelfestival.com.
Morel Hunting Tips from Jim and Tony
Jim Baumann organizes the morel fest, and Tony Williams gives a seminar on morels every year. Who better to give you insider tips for your morel hunt?
• Don’t look at your feet. Keep your head up and look about 25 feet ahead.
• When you do find a morel, slow down and look around, because they grow in groups.
• If you’re not finding many morels, move along, and cover as much ground as you can.
• Look on the south side of hills early in the season, and on the north side later in the season.
• Keep an eye out for ash trees – morels often grow near them.