I had grown to absolutely HATE mushroom hunting over the past 10 years. Fortunately, that disgust has turned to elation, just over the past couple of years in the woods. Let me tell you why.

Common morel fungus (Morchella esculenta)
Credit: tomasztc
The real deal Morel Mushrooms; delicious.
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First off, let's get this out of the way. I LOVE Morel mushrooms. They are truly delicious and are the golden standard for foraging in May through the state of Iowa. When I was a kid I always enjoyed going out and finding them with the Ehlers family. We always did alright. BUT, for the last several years of hunting on my own, I have not one morel mushroom to my name. They are getting extremely difficult to find, unless you already have a "honey-hole" you continue to run back to. And trust me, no one is sharing their locations!

Credit: Tom Drake Not a mushroom you want to eat! This is one of the many styles of false-morels you'll find while stomping about the woods.
Credit: Tom Drake
Not a mushroom you want to eat! This is one of the many styles of false-morels you'll find while stomping about the woods.
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Now, I have found loads of mushrooms where I hunt, but none you'd like to eat: that is until a little research led me to this golden beauty that seems to be growing in abundance across our local Iowa forests.

Credit: Tom Drake A mighty fine haul of Golden Oyster Mushrooms.
Credit: Tom Drake
A mighty fine haul of Golden Oyster Mushrooms.
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Enter the Golden Oyster Mushroom

Credit: Tom Ehlers My son Bennett holding Golden Oyster Mushrooms.
Credit: Tom Ehlers
My son Bennett holding some Golden Oyster Mushrooms.
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I pulled in 2 pounds of mushrooms off one downed log last night in White Water Canyon on a simple 1 hour-ish hike. Bonus: there were more there to grab, so I may go back when I am appropriately attired to deal with poison ivy, stinging nettle, and the overabundance of ticks that there seems to be this year.

Credit: Tom Drake My haul of Golden Oyster Mushrooms. I usually clean or rinse them like this. Then place them on paper towels to thoroughly dry out before bagging and freezing them. I managed 4, 8 ounce freezer bags.
Credit: Tom Drake
My recent haul of Golden Oyster Mushrooms. I usually clean or rinse them like this. Then place them on paper towels to thoroughly dry out before bagging and freezing them. I managed 4, 8-ounce freezer bags full.
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In fact, every Iowa location I have visited over the last 2 years on my adventures has had a significant amount of Golden Oyster Mushrooms ready for harvesting. While morels have long been a favorite of all Iowans, golden oysters are easier to find, simpler to grow, and just as delicious.

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Golden oyster mushrooms, with their vibrant yellow caps and nutty flavor, are a feast for the eyes and taste buds. They’re perfect for adding a pop of color and flavor to your dishes, making them a standout ingredient.

Credit: Tom Ehlers
Credit: Tom Drake
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Foraging for morels can be hit or miss, and their short season doesn’t help. Golden oysters, however, grow in clusters and can be found more easily. Better yet, they’re incredibly easy to cultivate at home on substrates like sawdust, coffee grounds, or even waste paper, giving you a steady supply of fresh mushrooms without all the hassle. I am thinking about trying to start my own oyster mushroom colony with the spore-heavy water from cleaning my recent haul.

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Golden oysters are nutritional powerhouses, rich in antioxidants, vitamins (B5, D), minerals (potassium, zinc), and fiber. They support heart health, immune function, and blood sugar regulation, offering more comprehensive health benefits than morels.

Credit: Tom Drake Out of the woods and into the frying pan.
Credit: Tom Drake
Out of the woods and into the frying pan.
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These mushrooms shine in the kitchen. Sauté them until crispy for a sandwich topping, add them to stir-fries, soups (this makes a great mushroom soup base), or pasta dishes. Their meaty texture even makes them a fantastic substitute in vegan and vegetarian recipes. My favorite way to use this mushroom is to add it to a Chinese-style stir fry, as they taste almost cashew-like in flavor. This can add an earthy, nutty flavor to any dish. Better yet, just bread them and fry'em up!

Credit: Tom Drake Did you even go mushroom hunting if you didn't make fried mushrooms!?
Credit: Tom Drake
Did you even go mushroom hunting, if you didn't make fried mushrooms!?
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Even better, golden oysters are a sustainable choice. Foraging them causes minimal environmental impact, and since they can be grown on various recycled materials, they can be grown at home providing easy year-round availability. Golden oyster mushrooms are a colorful, nutritious, and versatile alternative to morels. Way easier to find and grow, they’re a fantastic way to enhance your culinary creations and try something new. Who knows, they might just become your new favorite mushroom.

Here's where I found my golden oyster mushroom haul in Iowa:

Photos: Whitewater Canyon in Bernard, Iowa

The unique beauty of Whitewater Canyon in Bernard, Iowa- explore valley of the 13 caves, the scenic overlook, and a geographical formation known as landbridge.

Gallery Credit: Tom Drake

Photos: Palisades-Kepler State Park

Take a hike through Palisades-Kepler State Park, just outside of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Gallery Credit: Tom Ehlers

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