Steve Rynders, of Swansea, was so excited about the gigantic red morels he found that he locked his keys in his truck.
The 55-year-old disabled laborer came across a chubby 2-pound mushroom, and another, just a bit smaller, in the Kaskaskia River Bottoms near Mascoutah.
"I couldn't believe it. I've never see them like that," he said, standing alongside his truck on a humid afternoon. The cone-shaped sponge-like mushrooms rested on paper towels on his passenger seat floor. "I'm surprised to see something like that in the early part of the season. I've always known about morels. I've been an outdoorsman all my life. I wasn't finding a lot."
He came across smaller morels in Villa Hills. "You have to look straight down. These are the ones that come up first," he said, picking up a thumb-size little guy. "They're hard to see."
He walked over some before realizing he was in a mushroom patch.
"In a week, the bigger ones will be popping up."
The wild mushrooms, which range in color from pale cream to black, are a delicacy.
"They go for several dollars a pound," Steve said. "I'll eat them a few times, then I'm good till next year. I give away more than I eat. I just like to get the exercise. It gets me outdoors and walking."
How long have you been hunting mushrooms? "About 25 years. The last few years haven't been too good. A cold spell could just mess it all up. The weather just has to be right for them to grow."
How long will the season last? "Usually three or four weeks. They usually come in around the second week in April. Depending on the weather, they can be earlier. This year is a late year. It's the early part of the season. I will go a couple more times."
Where do they grow? "Out in the woods where it's moist. They don't like the bottoms, but they do like ditches and stuff like that. They like elm trees. I seem to find a lot around elms."
What do you do when you get them home? "You have to soak them in salt water to get the bugs out. I'll probably take these and show them off a few times before I do anything. They're impressive to me."
How do you cook them? "I bread them in flour and fry them in butter or deep-fry them in grease. Or you can fill with cream cheese and fry them."
How did you get into your truck? "I went down the road, and knocked on the door of a friend who had an extra set of keys."