At the Saturday farmer’s market, morels were selling for $45 a pound. Ours were free, if you don’t count a few tanks of gas spent driving around to mushroom-hunting spots over the last two months, plus the time, scratched-up legs and tick bites. Along the way I summoned tracking skills from my year in Africa that had grown dormant the last few years: those of patience, of filtering the visual scene for certain colors or sizes, of internally cataloguing the similarities and differences in habitats. I’ve never been expert at this, but I do occasionally pay more attention to the forest’s details.
I learned that the morel, with its heady mix of mushroom-perfume and umami, is really all it’s cracked up to be. I learned via morels dredged in flour and fried, and via morels stuffed with ramps, chevre, bacon and bread crumbs, accompanied by rabbit au vin. Two weeks later, I’ve finally digested that meal enough to laboriously type this out.
In an effort to increase my mushroom karma, I will tell you that ours came from a dead-elm-infested area of the Wisconsin River area. W. found one motherlode … which someone else had already exploited, leaving just one fruiting body.
By the way, W.’s brain has been infected with the idea of growing them inside — an ambitious prospect, as Tom Volk, professor of mycology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, details, for the same reasons it’s so dang hard to find the things in the wild:
Nearly every morel hunter has a ready list of excuses why no morels are being found: too hot, too cold, not enough rain, too much rain, not enough humidity, too humid, the tree hasn’t been dead long enough, the tree’s been dead too long, the may apples aren’t blooming yet, the oak leaves aren’t yet the size of a squirrel’s ear, and so on. The apparent lack of identifiable consistent conditions that lead to wild morel fruiting has been a major deterrent in establishing protocols for artificial morel cultivation.
… It is precisely this frustration and overall lack of knowledge as well as the general “mystique” that envelopes the morel, that has generated the excitement of the patenting of a process to grow morels (Morchella sp.) under controlled conditions (U.S. Patent nos. 4,594,809 and 4,757,640).
I believe in W.