Tag Archives: morels

A prickly Lady Luck puts out

Ramps taste better than garlicky onions because they are wild. Other than that, they taste like garlicky onions.

I was getting nowhere in spreadsheet land, so I took off in the Subaru and headed for a ramps patch I know some 45 minutes away. I didn’t want this project to cause me to lose out on all my favorite foraging opportunities this year; I’ve already spent far too much time at work and far too little on morels. Sinatra was singing the Lady Luck song on the way.

Foraging becomes so much more efficient when you know where to go. Luck had nothing to do with this. I made a furtive beeline for the ramps from the parking lot — W. tells me that “beelining” is actually the word used for triangulating bees’ straight lines from flower to hive, when you want to catch a swarm.

I had last been here a year before. I crossed a stream into the lush never never land where the ramps had grown so thick. I’d been greedy but hardly made a dent that time. Here, I saw nothing. I squatted. That is my secret trick for finding things. Peeing forces you to stand in one spot for at least thirty seconds. Voila: a ramp right in front of me.

The ramps were hidden under much bigger growth than the year before. Clearly I was coming later in the season than last time. But they were also very sparse. And many of them had faded yellowing leaves. I don’t know if that’s just their life cycle, or if they had caught something nasty.

I took only the leaves this time, and only a handful. If the ramps were in trouble, I didn’t want to exacerbate the problem. Maybe this just wasn’t their year, in this particular spot.

But then came Lady Luck. Some wouldn’t call it that. As I reached for a ramp hidden under greenery, my hand felt an annoying prickle.

And that is how I finally learned to positively identify nettles. I was 90 percent sure about them, but you never want to screw up with plants. The other lucky bit is there’s a patch a block from my house.

Piling on tonight with a foragers’ quiche: morels, ramps, nettles and Comte cheese (which was on sale, another triumphant foraging discovery). I often hoard my finds, but sometimes it seems important to luxuriate in them.

I am 99 percent sure these are nettles. They stung me and they taste good.


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

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

Nary a morel, but a consolation prize

Foraging has begun in earnest. Everything popped up so quickly. I now get why everyone is into the rain gardens, or at least have a theory. Those prairie grasses start as gorgeously strange babies peeking out of the dirt, and people fall in love with them and that parental attachment sticks around in August, blinding them to the lanky unkempt weeds their babies have become. Continue reading