Spring is one of my favorite times of year for so many reasons. New flowers, garden planning, sunshine. But my favorite of all comes when the Trillium bloom
|Wild Trillium by Wildcat Photography on Etsy|
|Lady Slippers by Wildcat Photography on Etsy|
because that is the time to start hunting for the delicious, tantalizing, incomparable wild Morel Mushrooms!
|Morel Mushroom photo by SpiritHelpers on Etsy|
My daily walk in the woods surrounding my Montana home becomes a treasure hunt. You never know exactly where these tasty morsels will pop up, though I know a few areas that are fairly reliable. We look for the right combination of days - enough sun to warm the earth, enough rain to keep things damp. Then the walk is a scouting mission, eyes scanning for the telltale dwarves hat shape poking out of the ground. Oh, no - another pine cone fooling the eye! But wait! Here's one! A quick slice - you want to cut them off cleanly at the base so as not to bring home too much dirt and forest floor duff - and into the bag it goes. Maybe this morel was part of a group of several, maybe a lone one. Sometimes they are tiny, less than an inch high; sometimes they are 4 or 5 inches tall. I've heard of morels in soggy western Washington state as big as a football! But their Rocky Mountain cousins are generally quite a bit smaller.
If you've never tasted morels you might wonder what the big deal is about them. Once you've had the pleasure of their earthy, aromatic succulence on your tongue it is all perfectly clear. Commercial button mushrooms are mere tasteless place holders to be used when your supply of morels runs out. The amazing flavor combined with the Morels' meaty texture is satisfying in a way no mere common mushroom can match.
Morels keep well in the refrigerator for a week or so if stored in a paper bag. But they rarely last that long at my house. Before cooking or drying them, they get a quick rinse and a pat dry. The good old standard way to serve morels is sauteed with lots of butter and some garlic. This is the perfect companion to a hearty steak or roast chicken. Use them as you would any mushroom and be prepared to be amazed. Morels are a fabulous addition to soups, sauces, and lasagnas. Like all mushrooms, they must be cooked before eating.
I found my absolute favorite morel recipe in Sunset Magazine one year: Morel Mushroom and Oloroso Sherry Gratin, though I make it with dry Marsala. I served this orgazmic dish to my book club last night along with a chicken Caesar Salad and cruettes to rave reviews. Give it a try if you are feeling adventurous.
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