Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hunting Morels

A walk in the woods is nice and can also be fruitful. If you know what you are looking for, the forest can be full of wonderful living produce. Dandelion greens, garlic mustard, and mushrooms are wild, edible, and tasty. I had been looking longingly at the mushrooms in the supermarket but forcing myself to walk away because I was going mushroom hunting. I have been told that wild mushrooms are much more delicious than any mushroom you can buy in a supermarket.

Slow Food DC recently teamed up with M.A.W (Mycological Association of Washington) to plan a Morel Foray in Wheaton, Maryland. We were a group of 30 with 4 identifiers from M.A.W. As a first time mushroom hunter, I did not want to pick anything unless it was identified by a professional. Mushrooms can be tasty but also deadly and I did not want to take any risks.

The first mushroom I spotted was black and growing off a tree.
It did not look tasty and an identifier was not around so I let it go. Next I spotted some mushrooms growing on a fallen tree. After my bounty was identified as Oyster, they were cut down and bagged. I got close to three pounds of Oyster mushrooms for the price of looking. Nice, but no Morel.

Morel mushrooms have a short season and are difficult to identify. They blend in so well to the forest floor which makes them easy to miss. I was searching by a large Tulip Poplar when the first Morel appeared to me. I yelled “Bingo!” as is the custom in order to get the identifiers attention. Then I noticed another Morel near by, I was so excited! A woman came over and said she had just been looking by that very tree and did not see them. Then another person in our group spotted another Morel behind me.

I only found two morels that morning but others in our group were much luckier. One man found 43 Morels! Where there is one there are more unless someone else has come along before you and cleared them out. I couldn’t help but worry about all the yummy Morels that may have been accidentally crushed under foot that morning. Walking in the woods with 30 people split into 4 groups, I didn’t really expect to find much.

It was amazing to be walking in the woods, billy goating over fallen trees, searching the floor for the elusive Morel and then look up and not see anyone around. There was a moment where I was alone in the woods and slightly worried that I had lost my husband and the rest of the group.

It felt like an overwhelming Easter egg hunt. Searching for Morels seeing nothing, wondering if I had already searched this patch of leaves which looks exactly like that patch of leaves. It was a bit dizzying keeping my head down searching for the elusive fungi. I can get vertigo just turning around in my kitchen or wearing a patterned shirt. Maybe I was too wired on coffee to relax as I also felt a bit rushed and excited to find some Morels.

We brought home our booty and enjoyed out Oyster mushrooms in a frittata with onion, spinach, and chevre. The Oyster mushrooms tasted richer, meatier, and freshier than one I had enjoyed before. Honestly, I didn’t like mushrooms until I was 21 and backpacking through Europe. At the time I was pretty poor and would eat anything no questions asked. Maybe I just had to get over the shit factor.

Unfortunately, we did not get to enjoy the rest of the mushrooms as they were not properly stored. They were in the fridge left in the brown paper foraging bags. The Morels were totally desiccated when I took them out four days later. I tried to reconstitute them in water then pan fry them but it didn’t taste like much. The Oysters had a furry white mold growing on them that I did not notice before and did not want to take a chance.

I learned a valuable lesson and have a whole lot more I need to learn about mushroom hunting. Next time, eat immediately and store with air and moisture. Now, all I want to do is hunt Morels. The season is short and the clock is ticking. I hope to get out into the woods a few more times and hope to bag a bigger lot.

Oyster and Morel mushrooms on a bed of garlic mustard.

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