The rains have ushered in Morel Season and they are abundant this year! Celebrated among rural folks from Oklahoma to Minnesota the magical, mystical, and utterly delicious morel is more than simply a mushroom; it has a cult following. Why? Perhaps because the season is so short lasting only a few weeks with the first onset of spring; perhaps because conditions of temperature and moisture must be met; perhaps because the palate remembers this delicacy long after the season is over; or perhaps because they have never been successfully produced on a commercial level. Regardless of the reason, the arrival of this edible gem is the cause of many culinary celebrations all across the country. Only the subtle French truffle is more eagerly sought than the morels growing in our own back woods.
The elusive morel is usually found in specific locations, many of which are jealously guarded by experienced hunters and often these locations are passed down from one generation to the next. Morels, originating from spores, are found in clusters among fallen leaves under dying Elms, in abandoned apple orchards, under Sycamore or Ash and near decaying stumps. The morel requires a host, preferably a dead or dying tree, in order to produce. Morels are a genus of the edible cup fungi and the highly porous ascocarps are the prize. It is said that collecting morels in a porous bag helps spread the spores, but this has never been scientifically proven. Morels are a delicacy that commands the hefty price of $20 a pound if they may be found for sale, which is rarely as most morel aficionados prefer to eat their finds rather than sell them.
After a successful hunt, the mushrooms should be soaked in salted water overnight… if one can wait that long. The soaking kills the tiny micro bugs and critters that live on the mushroom. The traditional method of cooking includes patting them dry then rolling them in a mixture of (optional) beaten egg, flour or cornmeal or a combination of both and frying them in butter.
There is no better way to enjoy the arrival of spring than a walk through the woods on a fine day; add the pleasure of searching for morels, an adult version of an Easter egg hunt, and you have a perfect day followed by a perfect meal. Happy Hunting
Photo Credit: Top: Bill Torgerson, Tammy Ellis Coats and Sandy Garrison