Morel Values

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Yesterday a friend took me to a morel spot he found last year. A novice forager but avid hunter and outdoorsman, he has quickly become a much better mushroomer than I am because he knows the area intimately and spends more time in the woods than I do.

Morels like orchards, especially with old and decaying trees. Unfortunately, most of the commercial orchards in these parts are pretty heavily sprayed and what I’ve read on the subject says that the fungi absorb those toxins so it’s not wise to ingest them. But old, disused stands of fruit trees that haven’t been sprayed or tended in years? Those are perfect; not only is the soil free of poisons, but the trees are likely deteriorating, their root systems beginning to decay underground, providing morels with their preferred substrate.

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Choked with brambles and poison ivy, this spot was ideal. Many of the trees are declining, and a few are fully dead. The hurtingest trees yielded the most mushrooms, though a few good specimens grew around seemingly healthy trees. Tin cloth chaps made us impervious to the thorns, and proper clothing protected us from the poison ivy (and ticks, which I also fended off with rose geranium oil applied liberally to exposed areas). When your surroundings look like a Corot painting, you’re doing something right, and let’s face it: any activity that warrants the wearing of chaps is worth it on that basis alone.

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We scored a decent haul: not enough to dehydrate for winter, but plenty for me to make suitably lavish portions of my favorite morel dish once I got home. (We stopped at another spot to cut a few ramp greens for the ultimate vernal complement; I almost grabbed a couple of mourning dove eggs out of a low nest for a trifecta, but didn’t want to break up that family).

I sautéed the ramps and mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, then added some heavy cream and let it reduce. While it did, I toasted thick slices of the sourdough I had baked the day before. Morels on toast: it was what was for dinner. I debated keeping half the haul unmolested for another day, but then decided that these sort of ephemeral, gloriously rare finds are best celebrated with indulgence. Thus did about a pound and a half of mushrooms become a few transcendent bites that rendered the main course (monkfish, ramp and spinach greens, duck fat enoki “fries”—peep my Instagram) superfluous. I’m unlikely to have time to get out again during this fleeting season, so until the black trumpets come up in six weeks or so this will be the memorable foraged feast of the year.

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3 Comments

  1. Carla B.
    May 11

    May I offer a bit of mycological remediation? You wrote: “the trees are likely deteriorating, their root systems beginning to decay underground, providing morels with their preferred substrate.” Well…not quite. Morels are not saprobes, rather they are mychorrhizal with the tree roots. When a tree is in distress, some chemical change, the details beyond my ken, triggers the mycelium to fruit. Since the fruiting body of a fungus is the reproductive part, this makes evolutionary sense; the host it dying, it’s time to make spores and get out of here. This year I found no less than 16 morels in a patch of ground fanning out from just one side of an apple tree. The tree had lost about half it’s crown on the same side the morels had fruited.

    • Peter
      May 18

      Great, thanks. And props for commenting on a blog post in 2017. We need more people like you.

      • Carla B.
        May 18

        Geez, I hardly knew it was passé to comment on a blog. Probably because I live in the radio quiet zone with no cell service, and don’t tweet, text, or otherwise blurt impulsively on electronic media.

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