“Morel” Grounding

Morels: the sweet dream of every mushroom gourmet–tender of flesh, delicate of flavor. The taste is hard to pin down, not as “earthy” as other fungi, the morel is creamy. I taste hints of egg, perhaps of tofu, and even a flavor reminiscent of beef. The texture is spongy but not soggy, creamy but not soft. They pair well with sauces and meats, they make fabulous additions to quiche, they are lovely by themselves–sauteed (for a fresh flavor) or breaded and fried (flavorful crunch of exterior, creamy delightful middle). For more ideas: Mushroom Recipes.

But of course, the difficulty lies not with the means of preparation. No indeed. The trouble is finding them. They are the “real” magic mushrooms–and they have mastered the art of hiding (even vanishing) in plain sight.

I would compare mushroom hunting to a kind of reconnaissance mission. And it is a mission for which you will receive no help whatever. There may be fellow feeling among fishermen over their favorite water holes, but mushroom hunters jealously guard their chosen grounds. Ask a neighbor–a friend–even a family member “where did you find your mushrooms?” Answer: “In the forest.” Anything beyond this will be evasion.

But–let us suppose you live in Minnesota, as I do. The state mushroom in the morel, so it is reasonable to suppose they are plentiful and wide spread. (So to speak). Why, you should be able to find them anywhere, right?

Yes and no. Like this forest tree frog (whom I disturbed in my search), the mushroom is well camouflaged. This is not the poisonous toadstool announcing itself in bright colors. This is the edible plant hunkering low and pretending–like the amphibian–to be an unappetizing leaf shrugged off last autumn. Hunting for them requires skill, a way of seeing that we normally don’t employ when picking up inanimate objects from the ground. Years and years of forest foraging hones the ability to see the strange shriveled tips, even under leaf litter… but it does require practice. While out last weekend, Mark managed to find his very first one. It was a time of celebration! (Especially as I found the other nine required to make a meal).

And what a meal; I am a bit of a traditionalist in that I like to pair mushrooms with beef. Two thick-cut tenderloins, prepared as steak au poivre (steak with black pepper), sauteed radicchio with lemon and garlic, parsley-buttered egg noodles… and all topped with the seared halves of morel mushrooms–the crown of the feast (and the result of 3 hours’ searching).

So. Where did we found our mushrooms?

In the woods, friend, in the woods.

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