Soon they’ll be popping up everywhere – mushrooms that is! There is no middle of the road here, either you love these delectable fungi or you detest them.
Also known by such names as “Molly Moochers,” “Miracles,” “Dryland Fish” and “Hickory Chickens,” morels are America’s mushroom. It all depends on the weather, but usually their growing season spans just the early spring. They are found all across the country where growing conditions are right. Air temperature, ground temperature and rain levels affect the growing cycle.
A mushroom, by definition, is the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus. Doesn’t that tempt your tastebuds! They don’t grow in the usual sense of the word like plants do. Rather, they expand by breaking down dead plants much the same as compost piles do. Their cells balloon up so, seemingly overnight, they can go from a pinhead to a large mushroom.
Some people have actually reported seeing them “pop up” right before their eyes. I have my own theory on this. Ever since I was a kid I have been going mushrooming, sometimes by myself and sometimes with expert hunters. No matter, I go but I don’t find them. I can scour over an area and come up empty and someone else can look the same place and find a dozen. I think that as quick as they pop out of the ground they also pop back under the ground, like a teaser. After all, morels are part of the funky fungus family.
Because of this fact, it is critical to be able to identify the good morels from the bad. The edible type has a conical shape and the bottom of the cap is attached near the bottom of the stem. Avoid the ones that are attached closer to the top, like an umbrella. These may not be deadly, but can certainly cause gastrointestinal distress.
The best places to hunt morels are around dead trees where the bark is falling off and in old apple orchards. They are particularly prone to the soil around elm, ash and aspen trees. Of course, in the spring, the dead leaves covering the ground are the same color as the mushrooms, so they all blend.
Perhaps that is part of the lure of these ever-elusive and oh-so mysterious delicacies. Half of the fun is finding these. Here in Michigan, the “schrooming” season, as it is sometimes referred to, unofficially kicks off the tourist season in northern Michigan. Many plan a yearly trek and a vacation around the mushroom season. On a good year they return with bushels of them, and other times all they get is a good vacation.
So, how do you cook these treasures? First, you soak them in salt water for a couple hours to flush out any bugs that are calling the inside home. Then, for me and many others, there is only one way to prepare them, roll them in flour and fry in butter (margarine won’t do here) until they are golden brown. Of course, they can also be put in omelets, stews and the like. Surprisingly, they are actually good for you. They are a good source of B vitamins, high in protein and low in fat and calories – save for the butter.
If you are one of the lucky ones who find too many to be eaten fresh, they can be preserved by freezing or drying. For freezing, either dredge in flour, freeze on a cookie sheet and then put them in an airtight container in the freezer; or place in a container, cover them with water and freeze. For drying, they can be put in a food dryer, or spread them on a cookie sheet and put in the oven on a low temperature until all the moisture is out and then freeze. The advantage to this method is you get to smell the pleasant aroma as it wafts through the house.
For those of you who are not cut out to be mushroom hunters, like me, you can purchase some at various places. Beware, prices start at more than $20 per pound, and that is a steal! As for me, each year I think my luck may change so off I go in search for them. The last time we went, Jim and I were out for four hours and found one large mushroom. We went home and each of us ate half that night for supper. It was just enough to remind us why we are caught up in “schrooming” year after year.