Until this weekend, I had been morel foraging exactly once and planned to keep it that way. I was visiting family in Southern Indiana around Easter time and my rather eccentric uncle decided it would be a great idea to trapsaise around the woods looking for elusive fungi. For 5 hours we tromped up and down hills and ravines, half bent over looking for things that closely resembled the forest floor. It was cold, damp and generally miserable and my uncle pushed us on and on, long past the time I was ready to call it quits and head in for a beer. When all was said and done, the lot of us had found exactly 6 mushrooms, one of which I discovered the moment before I stepped on it. This was supposed to be fun?
Ever the optimist, my uncle was thrilled with our loot and back home, 5 of us shared a plate of sautéed morels and scrambled eggs. Good? Yes. Worth the effort? Absolutely not. After finding countless morel stumps, I decided the deer in those woods had it pretty good, far better than us. I also decided then and there that hunting the bright orange, easily visible chanterelles in those woods was more my speed.
This past weekend some friends and I made our annual Memorial Day trek to a good friends cabin in Western Wisconsin. As I’ve mentioned before, we have a deep love for this rustic hunting cabin in the middle of nowhere. It’s a weekend full of laziness, laughter, New Glarus and a whole lot of great food. I look forward to that trip all year and even though it’s typically cold and rainy, it really worked in our favor this year. For the first time in nearly 10 years, upon arrival I heard the following: “The woods are full of morels!”
This was a new one. I’d heard fables of the woods surrounding the cabin containing morel mushrooms but we’ve never seen them. The “season” is usually weeks before we arrive and given my past experiences, I’ve never given it much thought. Tromping through those woods, past deer stands, worrying about ticks, throwing out my trick knee and sliding down steep inclines on my butt … been there, done that. No need to repeat that experience. But after hearing tales of our host’s brothers bringing in 100’s of mushrooms only a few days prior, well that’ll get you moving.
So we put on sensible shoes and long pants, grabbed our bags and paring knives and headed out to cover the short distance to the woods surrounding the cabin. Some of us may have even gotten a ride in the golf cart. We got a quick lesson from the more experienced foraging member of the group so we knew what to look for. (I can’t emphasis this enough – before you forage anything, get a guidebook and know what you’re looking for. Eating the wrong thing can make you seriously ill, even to the point of death. No joke.) Hopeful and expectant, we spread out into uncomfortable half-crouched positions scanning the ground carefully for the webbed brown beauties.
Mushroom hunting is a lot like fishing; great fun when there’s action but incredibly boring and discouraging when there’s not. Within minutes there were shouts of “There’s one!” “I got a big one!” “Found a clump!” “Got a two-header!” It was exciting and once we got our first taste of the hunt, we were hooked. That afternoon we pulled in close to 100, 88 to be exact if memory serves
The next day, we went again and by this time we had formed our theories. Morels like oak trees so look near those. There needs to be a good deal of leafy debris but not too much live green matter. The hillsides need to be moist, to encourage growth, and not too dry. Turns out while we thought our logic was solid, every one of us found several ‘shrooms in conditions that didn’t mirror any of our cockamamie theories but no matter, over the course of 2 hours spread over 2 days we’d become mushroom foraging experts in our own minds.
Our knowledge only increased when I picked up a book on morels in a used bookshop, a gift for our patriarch host. Over the course of the afternoon, he entertained us with passages including a gem regarding cleaning morels that read something like “be gentle with the morels when cleaning; pat but don’t spank your mushrooms.” Interesting. We learned that it’s best to eat them hours within picking but for longer storage, cover with a damp paper towel, string and line dry or sauté in a little butter and freeze. Good information. There were also numerous recipes calling for a “roon of morels”, a measurement that caused much consternation until we simply determined that a roon is whatever you have. Never did figure that one out.
And then we ate. A lot. The first batch was simply sautéed in Amish butter and eaten hot out of the pan. The next night, we kicked it up a bit with a dredge in seasoned flour then pan fried in a butter/olive oil combo until brown and crisp. The final night we got a large pot of oil going for a fish fry and decided to do a little tempura action. Each was delicious in it’s own way but the simple sautés, especially the light dredge of seasoned flour, was always the favorite.
It was crazy and far and above my previous mushroom hunting experience. We ate our fill each night and still had some left to take home. I carefully packed the leftover cleaned mushrooms into small Ziploc bags, a little for everyone, and treated them like precious cargo the entire 6 hour drive home. The next day, I carefully spread my share on a metal rack where they’ll get plenty of circulation and set them aside to air dry. I’m looking forward to working a little cabin love into my cooking later this year.
on this blog three years ago: Rhubarb Custard Pie
on this blog two years ago: Banana Tarte Tatin
on this blog one year ago: Pear Frangipane Tarts
other foraging/picking adventures: Foraging for Chantrelles (fresh pasta recipe), Wild Blackberry picking (jam recipe), Strawberry Picking