Less is More

As promised, but probably too late use this season, I will now share my morel mushroom recipe.

When it comes to a morel mushroom score, just remember less is more.

Browsing the web for morel recipes, I found that even many of the “simple” ones have you coating the beauties in flour, cornflakes or get this… saltine crackers!  Really, people? Really?  You’ve just foraged one of the most delectable, natural gifts mother Earth provides and you are going to cover it with one of the most processed, bleached food-like substances around?  No, no, no.

So, drawing from a faint memory of a recipe I saw a few years back in Whole Living magazine, I decided to pair the morels with garlic ramps, another fleeting springtime treat, and lightly sauté them in a shallow pool of butter and olive oil.  Thyme came to the party to enhance the meaty mushroom goodness, and salt – that’s about it.

The mushrooms were so savory, so umami, it was difficult to believe that no soy sauce snuck into the pan while my back was turned.  There was chewiness, but no sliminess – the mushrooms were tender and the texture of the morels, with their crater-y exteriors, was like no other.  The ramps, being less intense than their more bulbous cousins, infused the butter and enveloped the morels in a subtle spicy sweetness but did not overpower at all.  After they were gone, I was sad, depressed even, because they were so good, and I knew it would be another year (if we’re lucky) before my taste buds would again bear the pleasure of the elusive morel.

Simple Sautéed Morels  – serves as many as you are willing to share with

3 tablespoons each butter and olive oil

1 bunch, 6 or so, ramps –  white parts only – chopped

1 to 2 dozen fresh morel mushrooms – depending on size

Fresh thyme leaves

Coarse salt, like kosher

Method:

Upon scoring your morel mushrooms, thank mother nature and take mental note of where you are so you can return next year in hopes of a sweet repeat.  Many ‘shroomers believe in carrying their morels in a mesh bag so as they walk through the forest, the mushrooms’ spores will fall through and hopefully sprout again the next season.

In a colander, rinse your morels thoroughly of dirt.  Then, gently slice them in half lengthwise and look inside their hollows for any insects who have taken residence there.  At this point you can soak the morels in salt water for about 2 hours, which kills any miniscule critters and supposedly neutralizes an enzyme that causes digestive issues, though this seems to be more old wives’ tale than scientific fact.

You can keep your clean and sliced morels in a shallow bowl covered by a damp paper towel in the fridge for up to 5 days, but I recommend cooking as soon as you can.

Melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan until just bubbling.  Turn the heat to medium-low and add the chopped ramps, stirring lovingly for a couple minutes until they are light brown and smell heavenly.

Next, lay the morels, outer-side down (hollow side up) in the buttery pan.  Let them cook for about three minutes, then check to see how they look: if slightly golden brown and shiny, they’re ready to be flipped.  Take your time with this, turning each morel to its other side with tender care.  Give them maybe two more minutes before adding the thyme leaves and coarse salt to taste.  Waft the scent to your nose with an oven mitt and savor that scent.

To finish, stir everything together with an old wooden spoon and remove the mushrooms to a pretty platter or thick paper plate.  Savor each bite; share if you can bear it.

Disclaimer:

Morels contain small amounts of hydrazine toxins that are removed by thorough cooking; morel mushrooms should never be eaten raw. It has been reported that even cooked morels can sometimes cause mild intoxication symptoms when consumed with alcohol.

When eating this mushroom for the first time it is wise to consume a small amount to minimize any allergic reaction. Morels for consumption must be clean and free of decay.

Morels growing in old apple orchards that have been treated with insecticides may accumulate levels of toxic lead and arsenic (yum!) that are unhealthy for human consumption.

Source: Wikipedia

Morchella, the true morels

Two weekends ago my fiance and I drove westward 3 hours to visit his family’s land in Richland County, WI.  It was a remote and beautiful place, full of springtime air and plenty of room to think and breathe.  Our primary purpose for the journey was to forage some wild foodstuffs – particularly a male turkey (tom) and the infamous morel mushroom.  I had never been to the land before, and Brandon wanted me to see it – so I could better understand a part of his life I hadn’t previously been a part of: hunting.

To hear Brandon describe his hunting experiences is an adventure of its own.  He “gets” the woods; he has insight on animal behaviors and nature’s way of doing things because he has spent time – in silence and stillness – observing the patterns and happenings on this expansive land and he knows it well.   I relished being able to accompany him through those woods, though the weather could have been kinder and I have an unnatural fear of ticks, because he was able to pass on to me some of the knowledge he’s been gaining in the forest over the years.  And he was able to do it first hand – I smelled the sweetness of the pines, heard the gobbles from the trees, and saw the signs of life that my untrained eyes would have otherwise missed.  And there it is: teaching the one you love, learning from the one you love: this is it.  This is where memories are made and relationships are bolstered.

We never got our tom, though we did spend a good amount of our hunt stalking what ended up being hens (the lady turkeys): creeping around trees and crawling through brush, trying to  stay under the radar of the birds’ impressive hearing abilities, attempting to blend in and sit still to avoid the gaze of theirzoom-like monocular vision.  Halfway into our second day’s venture I began focusing my eyes on the forest floor, entrusting Brandon with the animal kingdom while I sought edibles of a more fungal variety.

The first one came to me as if dropped from the heavens, perfectly formed and alone in its grace.  I plucked it eagerly and combed the area for more to no avail.  A few hours later, heading toward the cabin for the night, I said to Brandon, “I can’t believe we only found one.”  Literally seconds later he pointed out a huge morel and from there, our “mushroom eyes” kicked in and it was as though they were popping up just for us.  They grew in a circle around a fallen tree whose bark had sloughed off and been scattered across the ground.  In all we found 13 very good-sized morel mushroom.  We cleaned them well, brought them home the next day and had a fungi feast with Brandon’s brother and another friend.

I’ve never had such delicious ‘shrooms, maybe it’s because they were so fresh or perhaps because they were free and found in such a wonderful, adventurous way.   I can’t wait for next Spring to return to our new “spot” and gather more treats.  Thank you mother nature.

Morel mushroom recipe to come!