Foraging for Food: The Hunt For The Wild Mushroom
It’s early May, and the river bottom where I live is full of new life. Not just rabbits, snakes, and chicks, but also brand new morel mushrooms. This tasty treat is as much fun to find as it is to devour, but how does one get started? Here are my tried-and-true tips to finding the gourmet ingredient where it grows!
What they are: We’re talking morel mushrooms, here. The slender, light brown/yellow/grey beauties can vary in size from a tiny marble to a large man’s hand (or even larger.) They are hollow on the inside, unlike the False Morel (which is dangerous to eat). To see some excellent pictures of the morel, see the best web site in the world, The Great Morel.
When to look: You can read all you want about the exact time of year that the new morels will begin to pop up, but the truth is that it’s a delicate balance between calendar and gossip. Depending on where you live, the middle of April to mid-June is the eligible timeframe for them to appear. The difficulty lies in pinpointing the exact time that they will grow. Perfect conditions (adequate moisture, warm enough temps, and enough time to grow) will need to combine to give them a reason to spring forth from their hideouts. The best way to know if it is mushroom season in your area is to listen for “talk around town.” Someone will have seen the early ones and have blabbed about it to their friends or neighbors. When you hear the first reported findings – it’s "go" time!
How to harvest: It’s really just as easy as you would think. As soon as you have identified a morel, you can choose to pick it as close to the base as you wish, remembering that if you pull it completely out of the ground, you will have a lot of soil to contend with later. A nice clean snap will give you some yummy stem and the entire cap. If you see one that appears too small for your needs, by all means leave it (but remember that hunting is competitive. While you may wish for it to remain until it can grow some more, the guy that comes after you might not care to. It’s every man for himself in the mushroom hunting game.) Placing them in a nice grocery sack (reusable or plastic work equally well) until you get home will keep them from getting crushed. They are very delicate!
How to clean: There are varying opinions on how to do this best, but experience has shown me that lightly rinsing them under a slow stream in your sink and then allowing them to soak in salt water for a few hours will rid them of bugs and soil (plus give them a nice buttery flavor.) You can lay them on a stack of paper towels and let them dry carefully before you cook them. Don’t leave them too long, or they will start to dry out.
How to cook: Here is the best part! You can choose to add them to any recipe that would require cooked mushrooms (pasta, soups, casseroles, etc) to give it a rich flavor you can’t get from anything else. (My sister made her famous green bean casserole with morels one year – delicious!) I prefer to dunk them in an egg/milk combo, then in saltine cracker crumbs, and lightly fry them in cooking oil. This is the traditional way of cooking them in my area.
How to store: If you’ve been blessed to get so many mushrooms that you can’t possibly eat them all, call me. I’ll take care of them for you. You could also store them by either using your food dehydrator to dry them for later, or you can stick them in a freezer bag after doing the salt-water soak. They won’t be quite as nice, but will be much appreciated during the later months.
How to sell: Yes, these things sell like hotcakes during the season. There are now ads on Craigslist offering to sell them for between $10 and $15 a pound. You can get cleaned and sliced ones for up to $25/lb!
Once you find, clean, and cook your first morel, you will be hooked for life! I recommend visiting The Great Morel for all your mushroom questions, including how to identify them, some great recipes, and what you should know before packing them for mailing.
*Blogger's Note: Some of you have pointed out that mushroom hunting is best left to those who can accurately identify the morel mushroom, as eating other kinds of mushroom can be dangerous. We agree, and encourage novice hunters to buddy up with a seasoned shroomer before venturing out on your own. If in doubt, never pick or eat anything that can't be positively identified.