You might as well know the end before you decide to become a mushroom gatherer. There are no guarantees of any sort, much like fishing. You go for the time, the solitude, the quiet of the earth. While you are out there, you breathe deeper.
Winter idleness is pushed from the lungs and muscles. It is a time for reconnecting with the land around you. Sometimes you bring home a good catch, or in this case, a good mess of morels, sometimes not.
You need to be familiar with mushrooms. There are good and bad, some very bad. “If you don’t know, don’t go” is a quote I have heard many times throughout my years. It is true. Or, if you don’t know, go with someone who does. Someone who goes each spring, eats what they gather and has never gotten sick from wild mushrooms. Everyone who wants to learn something well seeks out a master at it and together, teacher and student proceed to tackle the process.
My father was a gatherer. He wanted to teach me, and, at the same time, protect me from choosing the wrong fungus or crossing paths with slithery creatures. He took me along, insisting I walk behind him. Always.
The real reason was he did not want me to spy a mushroom before he did. When I got old enough to see beyond his concern for my safety, and realized what his motive was, I was still content with the arrangement. I wanted to be out searching for mushrooms and if it meant that I walked behind and feigned ignorance, so be it. I wanted to be with Dad and be part of his springtime happiness, as we tramped the woods and wet meadows around Medway.
You may get dizzy from looking forward and down at the same time, searching the brown and green patterned earth for the yellow, gray or black sponges, all the while keeping an eye out for a slithery movement of suborder Serpentes. Of course, you have a staff or walking stick at hand to rustle the growth in front of your feet.
It comes in handy too, when stepping over logs, poking it along the other side to ensure no surprises.
A few years ago was a very good spring for mushrooms. My husband brought home 110 sponges and spikes, and a second time out, found 50 more. Back home, opening the bags released an ancient, earthy, damp aroma of mushrooms and woods into the house.
We shared with friends. What we kept were processed to have small batches to enjoy all summer. Even though mushrooms have been gathered for centuries, the only recipes I have on record from our early ancestors are for a mushroom catsup (1884, 1879) and a mushroom sauce to be poured around roasted chickens (1879). If our forefathers ate fried mushrooms in the spring, they left no written recipe. Of course, they didn’t need one. They knew the end of the matter before they went out.
Wild Mushroom Preparation:
1. They are split lengthwise, and put into salted water. The bowls go in the refrigerator for at least a few hours. They will hold that way for up to twenty-four hours. The salt helps draw out any little bugs hiding in the sponges.
2. Next, rinse thoroughly, gently swishing them to release any bugs and debris. Drain well on paper towels, turning them once to ensure a good drain.
3. Lightly flour them. Place on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Put in freezer till frozen. Remove from tray and store in zipper-type freezer bags or cartons in freezer for later use. No need to thaw, just put them in hot butter and fry.
4. To enjoy right away, lightly flour each piece, fry in butter until crispy brown on both sides.
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