Wednesday, April 23, 2014
While they’re deserving of their deeply savory and earthy reputation, morel mushrooms — which have a short season in mid-spring in Kansas — are all but impossible to grow yourself. In order to get a basket full, you either have to know how to forage for them or know someone else who does.
It can be a bit difficult, as the first rule of morel foraging is that you don’t talk about morel foraging. Or, at least, you don’t talk about where to look. I learned this the awkward way several years ago, when I saw my former neighbor hauling in a big load of morels.
I innocently asked him, “So, where’s a good place to go look for those around here, anyway?”
He looked at me like I’d asked for the password to his bank account, laughed uncomfortably, and said, “Yeah, right, like I’d tell you that!”
Thankfully, he was willing to share a few tips for hunting for a foraging spot of my own.
First, he told me to pay attention to the weather. Wait until the dandelions go to seed to really start looking. After that, the best foraging will be had when there’s been a good rain followed by a day or two of warm sunshine.
Look in wooded areas, particularly near a river or stream bank, underneath dead or dying trees such as elms, maples and sycamores.
Also, be sure to use a knife to cut off the morels above ground at the stem — yanking them up can harm the underground mycelium and damage your mushroom spot for the future.
Hunting morels will probably require a trek through thick woods, so make sure you have your bug spray, are dressed in long sleeves and pants, and check for ticks when you’re done.
Also, as always with mushrooms, make sure to have someone who knows about mushroom identification check over your haul before you eat them. Morels are fairly distinctive, but it’s still better to be safe.
If scrambling through the underbrush with snakes and ticks doesn’t sound appealing to you, do as I’ve done: make regular calls to Pendleton’s Country Market, which often resells mushrooms for local morel foragers (be quick — they sell out fast). While you’re there, buy some asparagus, too. Then go home and enjoy this recipe.
Morels with Asparagus, Eggs and Toast
About 20 stems of asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound morels
1 tablespoon butter
About 2 ounces goat cheese
4 slices of crusty bread
Salt and pepper, to taste
First, you need to soak the morels to remove any critters that might be calling your mushrooms home. Fill a clean sink with cool water. Slicing larger mushrooms in half first, add the mushrooms to the water. Let them soak for at least 30 minutes and up to a few hours. Drain the mushrooms and gently pat them dry.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Snap the ends off the asparagus where they naturally break, and spread them on a bake sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 15 minutes or until the stems start to get just a little charred color. Remove from the oven.
While the asparagus is cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and cook them down over medium-low heat until their liquid begins to evaporate.
Toast your slices of bread, and slather them with goat cheese. Pile the morels and asparagus on top.
Then, working quickly so that your veggies don’t get cold, cook the eggs. You can either poach or fry them as you wish, but, either way, try to leave the yolk a little runny.
Stack the cooked egg on top of your pre-assembled toast-and-vegetable stack. Use your fork to split open the yolk and allow it to run over the asparagus and morels, then tuck-in to one of spring’s finest meals.
— Meryl Carver-Allmond lives in Lawrence and writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography, and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day at mybitofearth.net.