Here’s a feature from a few years back by Cherie Spaulding. May is morel season in Leelanau, and reports are rolling in of people finding black morels and a few whites!
It’s springtime once again in Northern Michigan, and not only have daffodils broken through, confirmations of morel mushrooms are arriving daily. For a few short weeks, folks flock to the woods in search of this elusive, edible mushroom.
Morel mushroom taste delicious, this is no secret, but the season itself is a sort of cultural absurdity. The “hunters” protect the whereabouts of their source as if it were the location of the Holy Grail. If you have ever wondered who your true friends are or just how well you have transferred your status from “down-stater” to “local” you find out pretty quickly during morel season.
Unfortunately, the toughest part about morel season is not deciding how to prepare this earthy delicious fungi; nor is the greatest challenge identifying them from other common mushrooms. The most difficult part of morel hunting is locating and claiming your own special spot, relatively secure from open-mouthed paper sacks and the hungry claws of hunters. Once you find one and finally sink your teeth in, you won’t regret a single moment spent in pursuit of this earthly goodness–morels are divine!
As eager as you may be to fry up a fresh pick, consider a few pointers from avid hunters in our region:
1. KNOW YOUR SHROOMS. Learn to identify the “true morel” before you head in to the woods, or at least make certain you have the real deal before you serve them for dinner.
2. PROPER COLLECTING RECEPTACLE. Avid hunters insist on using a potato or orange bag–something netted, with holes–for collecting. A paper bag is fashionable, too, but purist prefer that pickers leave a trail of spores falling through the holes in the bag. (I recently read that the mushrooms begin to decompose almost immediately if they cannot “breathe,” so collecting them in a plastic bag is poor practice, but would suffice in pinch.)
3. LEARN THE LOCATIONS. An oak forest will probably never produce a morel, so say the experts; be sure to look for ash, maple, elm, poplar, and apple trees, commonly referred to as “host trees.” Morels may be found in surprisingly varied soil conditions, near sandy dune or swamp. Returning to the exact location year after year may or may not produce satisfying results. Generally a successful location one year will breed abundance the next, but one never knows. That is why they call this little bugger–elusive–one just never knows exactly where to look.
4. GET PERSONAL. One of the most successful hunters I know spends a significant amount of time on bent knee. Once you discover one morel, there are bound to be others, so staying calm and surveying the surroundings often proves the most productive tactic. When a morel is spotted, hunt around, but tread lightly. Many morel have been overlooked, or worse yet–squashed–in hasty anticipation of potential finds.
5. LEAVE A TRACE. Besides stealing someone’s favorite spot, the greatest mushrooming faux pas one can commit is to pick the mushroom–root and all–from the ground. Instead of this method, break the mushrooms stem and leave the remaining stem and root in the ground. The idea, I think, is to leave a few spores for the next year, but other hunters gauge the abundance of the area by what remains, and there is still a strange satisfaction in knowing that you missed them by only a moment or two. (Do not leave garbage in the woods, however.)
6. BE SAFE! This applies to ALL aspects of the hunt: searching, finding, identifying and eating. Use a compass in the woods if you have no sense of direction (or even if you do.) Take friends or tell someone your plans. Have a snack and water handy, and a jacket never hurt.
7. BE CONSIDERATE.
8. HAVE FUN! Most important facet of all.
Here’s a cool video by Stone Hut Studios of some morels in their natural habitat!
Salmon Fillets With Morel Mushrooms
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 5 shallots, minced
- 18 ounces morels, trimmed, cleaned and sliced
- 3/4 cup bottled clam juice
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 3 Tbsp. whipped cream
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh tarragon or 1/2 tsp. dried
- 6 8-ounce salmon fillets
- fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp. butter, melted
Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Add Morels; sauté until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add clam juice and wine; boil until liquids have almost evaporated, about 20 minutes.
Add cream to mushrooms; boil until thickened, about 1 minute. Mix in chopped tarragon. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat broiler. Arrange salmon skin side down on broiler pan. Brush with lemon juice, then butter. Broil until just cooked through, without turning, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Transfer to plates. Spoon Morels over.