One is tempted to ask “Who in the hell would want to hunt mushrooms?” (Yeah, I know, for some of you who might be looking for a different "effect", that might seem like a silly question but for the purposes of this node it seems like a lot of trouble, read on.) Apparently lots of people do. Here in the States there is a whole bunch of folks who, year in and year out, faithfully tramp through the forests and woods in search of their elusive prey, the morel.
Is it Time Yet?
That will depend on what region of the country you’re in and the weather patterns you’re experiencing. Typically though, the “season” begins in the early months of spring and last only a couple of weeks or so. In fact, there has been some scientific studies conducted in order to determine what the best growing times and conditions are but as of yet, nothing conclusive has been arrived at. I guess the morel is a fickle little spore that has so far eluded any firm scientific evidence.
Seek and You Shall Find
Well, maybe. Since the morel seems to be a cantankerous little fungi, concentrate your search around moist areas. Trees such as the Elm, Sycamore and Ash that are in the process of dying or have already keeled over seem to be a favorite gathering spot for the tasty morel. If you’re lucky enough to have access to an old apple orchard your chances are likely to be increased.
Experienced “shroomers” guard the secret of their favorite locations and visit them each year hoping for success. If you find yourself in the category of one of those clueless newbies, it would probably behoove you to accompany a more experienced “shroomer” on your quest in order to minimize the possibility of picking and eating a poisonous mushroom.
Eureka! I Found Some!
Should your quest be successful, there are various methods for getting your tasty treat home and ready for eating. First you gotta pick it. A simple pinch and twist at the base is usually all it takes but some folks prefer to bring a pocket knife and cut the morel at the base.
Next, you gotta get it home. For this, most experienced morel hunters will bring along an old onion bag. The onion bag allows for any microscopic critters that call the morel home to drop out along the way and therefore lower the possibility of you ingesting some unwanted sources of protein. Old pillow cases are also okay but avoid using plastic bags since they might retain the water and cause your delicacy to turn soggy.
How do I prepare them?
After a long day of morel hunting your work is still not done. Certain steps need to be taken in order to make them more palatable.
First of all, do NOT wash your little treasures. Mushrooms have a tendency to absorb water and this will any cause to dilute the flavor and destroy the texture.
Spread your prize out on cotton towels and depending on the size of your find, cut ‘em into halves or quarters. If you see any living or dead bugs inside the morel do not panic! It’s quite normal for some of theses creatures to take up residence inside our friend the morel. Merely use the tip of a sharp knife to remove any of these unwanted guests. Be sure to remove any brown spots that might appear since this might be evidence of your uninvited guests bathroom habits. Next, get yourself a good old fashioned basting or pastry brush and gently remove any dirt or other evidence of nature from the morel.
Now you gotta dry ‘em. If your stove has one of those vents that produce a downdraft you're in luck. Put the morels on a screen or a rack and set them below the vent. Turn the draft on “low” and walk away. In about 10-12 hours (depending on the size) your morels will be perfectly dry. If your not lucky enough to have a stove with one of those gizmos, get yourself one of those oscillating fans and follow the same procedure. (Make sure they don’t blow away!). Do NOT try and put them under normal household light bulbs because they produce too much humidity and your efforts will be wasted.
To preserve your morels for future use, either beg, borrow or steal one of those vacuum bagger machines and keep ‘em in a cool dark location. If you can’t manage to do that, try tossing them in a freezer bag and plop ‘em in the freezer. As a last resort, you can try to keep them in a jar in a cool dark place.
Can’t I Just “Grow My Own?”
Who knows? Probably yeah, as some kits exist on the market but given the fickle nature of our friendly neighborhood spore, one might wonder about their success ratio. Besides, as any avid hunter will probably tell you, the thrill lies in the pursuit of the prey and the satisfaction one gets from preparing it themselves than from buying it from the grocery store.
Okay, I’m Starving
Caution! Since these are a rare and tasty find, you might want to stick with some tried and true recipes but, as always, let your imagination be your guide. Here’s one of the more tried and true ones to get you started.
Cream of Morel Soup
Here’s what you need…
3/4 pound fresh morels (depending on your tastes and the success of your hunt! Chopped
1 large leek (use everything below the green leaves)
3 medium to small russet potatoes
1 cup chicken stock – (please use homemade!)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 Tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups water
Here’s what you do
1) Starting with the leeks, lope off the dark green leaves and roots. Slice the stem lengthwise and rinse under cold water making sure to remove any grit trapped between layers. Next, peel and halve the potatoes. Add broth to soup pot with the water. Boil moderately until quite tender. 20-30 min.
2) Heat medium pan over a medium flame. Add butter , morels and a few dashes of salt. Cook morels gently for ~ 15 minutes, making sure they do not dry out. Add a few dashes of wine at a time to keep moist. When nearly done add wine, turn up flame and continue cooking until liquid is almost gone. Add chicken stock and stir until blended.
3) When potatoes and leeks are tender, remove from heat and blend until smooth. Return to pot.
4) Add morel mix to potato/leek mixture and simmer very gently, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching. After about 5-10 minutes, add cream and salt and pepper to taste.