The Delicacy Of The Elusive Morel

If you are an old morel hunter you smell the arrival of the fungi in the air. - Louis Bromfield

Spring for me is defined by the elusive Morel mushroom. I (as most people) call them mushrooms but they technically are not. They are indeed a fungus and called Morchella Esculenta and belong to the genus Ascomycete, however not all fungi are mushrooms. They are found in many places in North America and also in France. In North Central Ohio, they are usually only found for a couple of weeks in late April - early May before the May Apples begin to flower.

I am extremely lucky that my dad is an avid and experienced morel hunter. He just knows when and where to begin looking. Apparently he, like Louis Bromfield, can smell them in the air.

Several years ago while living in Louisville, I made the trip home and brought a girlfriend. The plan was to go mushroom hunting so I could learn how to find them. This mushroom hunting is
tricky business. As we approached the depths of the woods, we spotted other hunters. These hunters were not armed with rifles, they were armed with bags. We were all there in search of the same thing. Not wanting to give up the location of his "spots", Dad used Jeanne and me as decoys. We were to go one direction in the woods luring the other hunters to follow us while Dad would sneak away to check his locations. We were told never to get excited and scream out, "I found one" unless we wanted to be mobbed. Dad knew the woods so well that he had no problem catching back up to us. The hunt would continue for a couple of hours but to no avail, at least for me. I could stare right at one and not see it. Dad was standing with his walking stick in his hand pointing right at one and I was staring at the leafy ground with the look of "duh!" We got a few that day and Jeanne and I both had a great time.

Having been away from here for many years, I didn't realize how many people really get out and hunt them. Every day at work, I have to get the latest counts from my work collegue, Joanne. Her entire family has been out looking and they are passing on the skill to the next generation. Nearby Malabar Farm has a weekend each spring to teach folks how to hunt, clean and prepare them. The only problems is that there are less for Dad to bring home to us if everyone else is out looking for them.

If you are not a woodsy person or have never tried Morels, you can find them in specialty or health food stores. They are quite expensive but worth the splurge even if you can only buy a few. My favorites are the big yellow ones but I know of others who like the smaller darker ones.
In this area, our local farm market is selling them for around $50 per pound. The $16 package that they were selling would be enough for you to give them a try. There are suddenly tons of recipes out there for morels. I have seen recipes for soups, frittatas, creamed on toast, mixed in with asparagus and the list goes on. Forget all these "foodie", high brow recipes and stick with the simple. The best way to have a morel is lightly floured and pan fried in butter. This method of preparation is the best way to bring out the true, earthy flavor of the Morel. I like to add just a touch of salt. They truly are a delicacy and worth the time hunting them or the expense of buying them. Bromfield said that for him, they were at the top of all delicacies and placed them above pate de foie gras, salmon trout and ecrevisse. I concur.


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