Tag Archives: foraging

Early spring brings early madness

Is this what it feels like to be a seed when spring comes around? In March a band snapped in my head, like the warmth had altered my brain chemistry.

For me, morel obsession returned.

Green shoots were barely finger-length coming up in the forest when I began pulling over to push myself through brambles. I always feel that if I simply look hard enough, the mushrooms will appear in front of me. And if I get up early enough I will be able to outsmart the mushrooms.

In reality, someone outsmarted me and my lady friends this week. Someone else was earlier still to the tree we refer to as Magic Trees #1 and #2. We were skunked, and dismayed/encouraged/jealous/livid/crazed to see the giant fresh stumps. We found a few, enough for a tart (with caramelized onions, washed down with dandelion wine). I have a backup spot or two. I have to find the time, amid moving and deadlines, to sneak out there.

If I reacted this way to alcohol, I’d be in serious trouble. This physical craving will be satisfied only when I am clutching a giant pillowcase full of fungus. It would be good for me to set my sights on a consolation prize, just in case. Ramps, I tell myself, they are nice enough, and they don’t sneak away when you’re not looking.

Foraging begins—Mushrooms still sleepy—A happy consolation

People go crazy over these, but they taste pretty much like garlicky green onions you've had before but with a tender leaf. The reason we go crazy is because wild things are always better. It's not rational, but there you have it.

Week #2 of the 2011 morel hunt: no morels. Last weekend it seemed like it was still pretty much winter out there. But today we walked among shoots and sensed we were just a few days too early. The obsession is growing. But stay out long enough, and Mother Nature will always provide something. Sometimes it’s something unpleasant, like ticks. (Who knows, I may have those, too.) Today it was a lovely consolation prize: ramps. Continue reading

The greedy hunter pays the price

Chanterelles: hard to miss, harder to clean.

The search cost for many mushrooms, so sparse and unpredictable, would seem to be too expensive for what you get — except that you weigh those costs not only against the find’s quantity and deliciousness, but your irrational desire for the quest itself, or to conquer the maddening woods.

Chanterelles are pleasantly untricky to find. But they are the mushrooms for which I’ve paid the steepest price so far. Continue reading

TO FILE: Morchella spp. — Obsessions — Satisfaction — Cream, Bacon, and Rabbit au Vin

If I had a child, I'd name it Morchella.


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.

With extreme need, I finally learned to recognize an elm tree.

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.

The first morel. Found by me, with its top already eaten off, thus making it easier to stuff.


I found the first morel, W. found the prettiest, and Stacie found the biggest. So we are all winners, just like our parents told us.


How to stuff a morel. NSFW?

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.

Success at last!

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. Continue reading

Give me some sugar, baby—maple sugar.

Just after boiling, the syrup was still cloudy. In the fridge it settled to the clear amber ambrosia we know and love.

Man-cakes with local syrup.

By now the sap seems to have stopped flowing, and we are taking in the buckets; the trees are hoarding sugar for their own selfish annual project of waking up and growing. This morning W. and I invited friends to polish off our first batch of Isthmus Maple Syrup atop some worthy buttermilk man-cakes and waffles. Once we saw how much sap it took to make that little half-pint jar, we had been hoarding it ourselves, like Gollum with his Precious.

In case you have syrup ambitions yourself, the vinyl tubing system worked pretty well, but next year we will try slightly larger holes and some proper spiles (the spouts you stick in the tree) to see if we get more sap that way. The turkey fryer is a must in the urban neighborhood, so often prejudiced against backyard bonfires.

Alas, poor us—Back to Pie Town

Last weekend W. brought home the first oyster mushroom of the year. A little one with a thick stem, a little soggy from spring rain but still promising. We ate it in an omelet, and it spurs us to find more. But today we woke up to snow. O. Alas.

Consolation: We go to Pie Town—in spirit, at least. That’s Pie Town, New Mexico, on the Continental Divide.

I was coming from Show Low, Arizona, one day on my motorcycle trip in November. I peered at the map to see my route; I was planning to cut south, because there was snow on the ground where I was and I just couldn’t get warm. But there in the sparsest part of the map, past the border in New Mexico, there was a dot labeled Pie Town.

Pie Town has two competing pie restaurants, and I chose the Daily Pie Cafe, which is on the right if you’re coming from Arizona, and by far the more famous. I was wearing every layer I had, so it took me a while to peel down. I ate two pieces of pie, the custard and the New Mexico green-chile pine-nut apple pie, a specialty of theirs, which I had learned about at the gas station some miles before by asking which kind of pie was the local favorite. I regretted only that the pieces were not as large as I would have liked.

I offered just such an apple pie for a donation pledge during my radio show at WORT-FM last week, and was delighted to find the recipe online, at the Daily Pie’s website. Technically it doesn’t call for charring fresh jalapenos, but why waste an opportunity to have fun with open flames?