“Growing up in northwest Missouri, springtime means morel season,” Weipert said. “The anticipation is enormous. The name was earned from my peers in my high school years. Growing up in a rural area, we would head to the forest in the spring for a friendly competition of who could find the most morels. I always found the first and the most. They called me the Mushroom King for those reasons.
“As an adult I continued to amaze my friends and family with the amount of mushrooms I could find and how early in the season I found them. In 2011, I registered the name ‘The Mushroom King’ with the state of Missouri.”
Weipert and his wife, Collette, will be featured speakers this year at the Topeka Boat and Outdoor Show, which runs Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at the Kansas Expocentre.
“Tom is just one of the great draws, one of the great promoters, and it won’t be long before them morels are poking up,” said “What’s in Outdoors” radio host Phil Taunton, an organizer for this year’s show. ” ... Most morel mushroom hunters are one of a kind, and where you find them is where (the mushrooms) are.”
His seminars, during which Weipert will share just an earthy taste of his expansive mushroom foraging expertise, are tentatively scheduled to run from 2 to 3 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 31, and Friday, Feb. 1.
“I hope to dispel some of the myths of mushroom hunting,” Weipert said. “Our environment has changed since I was a young boy and I learned that tree types (mushroom food source) are key in finding the mushrooms of desire. Most folks remember, as I do, the huge flushes of morels in our youth, late 1960s into the 1970s. There was a reason for that back then and I will share why that happened then and what we can expect in our forests this coming season.
“People at my presentations tell me they ‘learned something they never thought about before.’ I believe I have a connection to nature and a fun, entertaining way to share my gift with others.”Weipert said he began seeking out fungi at a young age and quickly developed a knack for finding them.
“My father took me out picking morel mushrooms before I was even big enough to tie my own shoes,” Weipert said. “Probably 3 years old. I grew up in a rural area and spent most of my time outdoors.”
The wealth of knowledge accumulated through all of that experience hunting mushrooms has helped him find the keys to seeking out each individual species throughout the year.
“I find thousands of pounds of mushrooms each year,” Weipert said. “They include morels, chanterelles, black trumpets, oysters, hen of the woods (maitake), lobster and hericium. I find them because I study up on the mushroom’s food source and go to where they are most likely to be found. I watch the weather patterns and understand the importance of moisture in the mushroom life cycle.”
He also does a lot of traveling these days while foraging for mushrooms nearly year-round, traveling from the South all the way up to the Pacific Northwest in search of the tasty morsels.
“Again, I follow the weather patterns — ground temperature being a large part of the mushroom life cycle and its food source,” said Weipert, who has hunted mushrooms in a total of 28 states. “I live in northwest Missouri, so I start my morel hunt in the spring as far south as Georgia, Texas and Oklahoma. Then follow the spring thaw line as it travels north into Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan and west to Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. I have put around 50,000 miles on my truck each year. I wear out a lot of hiking shoes and vehicles for my passion.”
Not only does he collect large quantities of mushrooms during his travels, but he also has found some pretty high-quality ones, as well.“Hen of the woods can grow really large in the fall months,” Weipert said. “One of those can be 25 to 30 pounds each. Morel mushrooms probably three-fourths of a pound to a pound.
“There are a lot of variables to the measurement, too. For instance, an 8-inch-tall morel after a drenching rain can weigh quite a bit, but the same one in a dry spell will weigh only a few ounces.”
An experienced chef, Weipert says he enjoys sharing his love of cooking mushrooms and his favorite recipes with others, even selling products online through the Missouri Mushroom Market Facebook page that make use of some of the mushrooms he finds.
“I use fresh mushrooms when I can and I dehydrate extras that I’ve harvested,” Weipert said. “Dehydration intensifies the flavor of mushrooms and can be kept in your cupboard for use in many soups, sauces and casseroles. I have developed packaging of dehydrated mushrooms with tips on using and recipes on the label. I offer these items for retail sale through my business, Missouri Mushroom Market. I also developed an easy-to-prepare Cream of Morel Mushroom Soup Mix that is available in single-serving sizes.”
He said he has some other mushroom-based food products in development, as well.
When: Jan. 31-Feb. 2
Where: Kansas Expocentre, 1 Expocentre Drive
Showtimes: 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2
Admission: $8 for adults, $6 for Good Sam members, kids 12 and under free