What with the chickens, the full-time job and the endless fruitless searches for mushrooms, I haven’t had time to write much.
My evolution as a mushroom hunter began with serendipitous finds on walks, and having to get a mushroom book to answer the question, “What IS that thing, and can I eat it?” Later I went back to the same spots to see how things had changed, and by then I was armed with much more Latin. Still, because I never went out looking for anything specific, I was never disappointed.
But this spring I was on the hunt. For morels, which people had been telling me about them all winter. Granted, conversation at my dinner parties does tend toward the subject of Unusual Foods One Has Eaten.
W. and I went out for several weeks and found nothing. We had no human guide, just my books and online forums such as Northern Country Morels, plus a map of elm distribution from the U.S. Forest Service. In the Sugar River area, my friends and I ended up empty-handed at the excellent Grumpy Troll — although I did find a possum skull, a thick handful of wild garlic and a tree goiter, and all of us found lots of ticks.
A few days later we went to a burned area of the Wisconsin River and got nothing but Wollersheim Winery’s Domaine Reserve to show for it. An important life lesson from my friend Stacie is that one should always arrange such an outing to include a consolation prize.
Three weeks later, I should say that the thrill of processed cheddar cheese spread with wine in it has worn off, and it is still in my fridge if you want it.
Two Sundays ago, W. and I woke and hardly even spoke to each other. A cloud of determination had settled over us. We hopped on our motorcycles after pancakes, and returned to Governor Nelson State Park, where we had found zip-O the week before with five people’s noses to the ground.
And this time, we were prepared. Meaning we wore tick repellent and brought lunch.
The soil was moist and sandy, the slope facing what I suspect was south. For once we weren’t surrounded by oak trees, but apple, elm, aspen and others. The ground cover was gorgeously diverse — purple jacks-in-the-pulpit, maidenhair ferns, silly umbrella-shaped plants and delicate parsleylike ones. Lots of dead trees.
As we had hoped, with that find, our minds suddenly, automatically sorted all our theories about what morel habitat was like there. In my case it was intuitive, in W.’s explicit: slim dead trees with papery bark and whorls. That’s why he’s in science school, and I’m a reporter. But we were both more successful after that. We never found a wild flush of morels like those we have read about on the forums … but we found enough Morchella semilibera to invite our friends for dinner.
And they brought their own treats! It was the finest stone soup ever. Mike brought lion’s mane he’d grown from a bag and pancetta he’d made from a local pig. Stacie brought asparagus, ramps and sunchokes, which I cannot believe I have lived so long without eating.
Tagliatelle: made with seven fresh egg yolks from our chicken-gals, the dough so yellow it looked like Play-Doh (though less salty, and better when cooked), with just a bit of cream to slide them down.
Lion’s mane sauteed with sunchokes did not make it to the table — it tastes just like lobster and artichokes.
Asparagus, ramps and morels sauteed in butter.
Oyster mushrooms in cream, brandy and nutmeg.
Macaroons, because it would be a crime to waste all those egg whites.
The next week, we found more morels, meatier ones — but that’s for another day.