Saturday, April 26, 2014

"Divine Knows Where to Look" for Morel Mushrooms

My first morel
Because this is the only week of the year to find them, I'd bushwhacked in the woods each day since Monday for those coveted morel mushrooms, employing all I've learned from a year's study and forays with the Mycological Society: morels appear on south-facing slopes, near fallen ash trees, between the "toes" of oak trees, preferably where soil is rich, near water and soon after rain, when the Devil's Urn (another fungus, black and inedible) has popped its top, and, most importantly, don't give up--and today the hours of sweat became worthwhile because in a Babler State Park ravine I found my very first morel, also the day's biggest and best. A few minutes later, my second morel I saw standing like an exclamation mark between the toes of an oak tree. And I found a third and fourth (smaller and older, and not pictured).

Even as I searched I learned. First, that I shouldn't look too hard. Each time I found one, I'd stopped to rest a moment--I insist on sensible rests when hiking. I'd knelt to grab water from my day pack and my eye lit on my first  honey-colored common or "golden" or yellow morel (Morchella esculenta). Using a knife, I carefully cut it free and bagged my treasure in a net hung from my belt. They say "When you find one, look around, because chances are there are more," but a long search in an eight-foot radius turned up no other morels, so I kept bushwhacking among the many fallen ash trees. You all know ash trees because I have shown you the trademark "X" pattern in the bark.

My second morel
Kept going, timelessly, scanning every inch of forest floor. Leaning against a tree about halfway up the slope I briefly rested my eyes, and looked up, and beheld my second morel on the north-facing side of an oak, just as plump and sassy as could be.

A while later the cellphone rang, one of those calls one must take. The topic was North Korean political art (don't ask). For a while I sat on a log, then walked and tripped and fell to my knees while still on the phone, and right in front of me was another morel, this one good-sized but chewed up a bit, and in front of that another: tiny, dessicated, and brownish. When a morel's stem darkens it's no good anymore -- in fact it's poison. But I took it for dissection and study.

After three hours, total distance half a mile, I came out ecstatic. I've waited a long time to be able to tell myself , "Yes, I have found morels. I've been taught, so I know when and where to look. I am not crazy or a faker. I am a real mushroomer. I don't give up." It's the best hide-and-seek game ever.

Before eating, morels are washed to remove dirt or grit, and cut open to ascertain that they are hollow (a trademark morel feature), then parboiled to remove natural irritants. They can then be sauteed or breaded and deep-fried, and a well-taught first-timer eats only a little and waits a bit, to make sure the mushroom is agreeable.


divinebunbun said...

They were meaty and delicious.

willyouwontyou said...

So cool, Catherine! As a kid,I went morel-hunting with my Dad, who also knew where to find them--but I wouldn't even think of eating a mushroom back then. NOW, however. . . .