If a magician wanted to gain fame, fortune or become a legend in the outdoor world, here’s a trick to consider. Take a plot of earth, strike it with a magic wand and have one or more morel mushrooms pop to the surface. The results of the feat would bring stardom and celebrity status for the trickster. Basically, that is what Mother Nature does every spring either in late April or early May, depending on her mood.
Some folks seem to have the knack or perhaps know the trick in finding the elusive fungi. In my case, it seems the harder I try, the less successful the outcome.
The tasty morel is usually found hiding among dead leaves and May apples on the southeast side of rotting or dying trees. Serious hunters search the timber for elm and ash trees as the best indicator for the magical morel, but again, Mother Nature is in charge. It is obvious why this delicious treat is commonly called the sponge mushroom, as the top portion appears exactly as a sponge.
The morel, or sponge, comes in three varieties: The common or yellow, the black, and the half-free whose top or head is much smaller than its two cousins. The common and the black are similar in shape and structure, differing only in color, one yellow, the other dark gray or black. As for the cooked product, I cannot tell the difference in the three varieties. They all melt in your mouth, with an unforgettable taste when prepared properly.
As for cooking morels, there are several options. Some folks like to cover a steak with the morels, others prefer them in scrambled eggs, and the other many recipes are up to the chef. We like our mushrooms as a separate dish. The following is our recipe: Morels are cut in half top to stem, soaked in cold salted water. Drain and dry. Dip in beaten egg (egg can be thinned with milk). Roll in breadcrumbs or flour, adding salt and pepper to taste. Melt butter in skillet and sauté mushrooms until golden brown. Serve as a separate dish or over cooked meat or pasta.
Also, information can be obtained from state conservation offices. The Internet is a good source for material and several books are available on mushroom identification and preparation.
The next point is fairly obvious. Serious morel hunters (like all hunters) enjoy telling their success stories afield, but don’t expect them to reveal an exact location; that’s usually a very guarded secret. If the serious mushroomer decides to take you to a prime spot, don’t be surprised if you are asked to wear a blindfold in route.
Basically, there are three ways to obtain the precious morel; (1) Search your tail off in the hills, hollows and river islands until you are successful, (2) Purchase morels from a seller at $10 to $25 a pound, (3) Hope like heck a friend finds so many that he or she gives you a mess. Option No. 3 is my favorite choice.
Over the years, morels have appeared in our kitchen from all three afore- mentioned sources, but the ones that tasted best are those stumbled over during a spring turkey hunt or random walk in the woods. Pride can be an awesome feeling.
In closing, a few words of caution. NEVER eat a mushroom unless you are sure that it is edible, non-poisonous, and personally, I don’t trust magicians.
Larry Reid is host of “Outdoors with Larry Reid” which airs Sundays at noon on WBGZ Radio, 1570 AM.