Tuesday, May 3, 2011

For the love of Morels

It all started last spring when I went on my very first foray with the Mycological Association of Greater Washington.  It was April, and a bit like this April- damp and dreary.  I headed out into the woods near my house with several wild mushroom experts in search for the great morel.  If you are not familiar with this amazing fungus then check out what wiki has to say: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morchella, or just google "Morel" and thousands of websites will appear.  In general, they are cone shaped with a spongy look.  (Like in the picture above).  They come in black, brown-yellow, yellow and probably other colors I don't know about.  The taste is delicate, earthy and delicious - you just have to experience it to know.

So what is all the fuss about?  Well for one- they are only found for approximately 4-6 weeks per year.
Where to find: woody areas - dead elm, tulip poplar trees, conifers, and I even found 2 next to a cherry tree in my backyard!  So the other big fuss is that it is a totally obsessive hobby.  I have spent nearly 12 hours in the last two weeks searching for these precious gems; on my hands and knees crawling through the brush and fallen trees, passing snakes (and even a bat today) which I am NOT a fan of, hulling through trenches of mud, climbing tree limbs to catch a better glance.  All this to find just 4 or 5 morels- YES.  You have to try it to see what I mean.  I am completely consumed with the hunt. It's on my mind morning, noon, and night. 
I finished work early today and went back out into the woods to I spot where I found a few morels last week.  It was a success for me- about a dozen found in a little less than an hour.  The first one you find is miraculous, and then you sit on your knees scoping the forest floor for more.  Today was especially wicked on the knees, as the area I was in had a lot of foliage and tree limbs to tangle with.  I spent the better part of the hour walking at half height. 
The season is coming to a close now, but there are still mushrooms to be found.  And with all the cool weather, the season may extend a few weeks.  Best times to hunt are following a good rain.  Search the woods - especially heavily foliage areas with lots of dead wood.  Look at the trees and see if you can figure out what is what; I am very bad at this which probably is why I have only found 30 or so morels this season. 

What to do when you find some?  Take a brown paper bag or a mesh bad is even better.  Something with small holes that allow the mushrooms to drop their spores on the ground as you walk- this will ensure continuing growth for seasons to follow.  Keep the morels in the refrigerator and use within a few days.  Or you can dry them for long term storage (I've never found that many to make it worth my wild).  Morels must be cooked- DO NOT EAT RAW!   Clean off all the dirt , cut off just a bit at the stem, and leave whole or cut in half.  I like to saute them in butter with salt and pepper.  That's it - make it simple as you don't want to overpower their earthy flavor. 
Good luck and Bon App!