Monthly Archives: May 2012

Morel Miracle

I am here to tell you that morels really do exist. This may not sound like a mycological epiphany, and I am well aware that many of you flatlanders have been finding (and promptly devouring) morels for weeks now. Of course, I too have found plenty of morels in past seasons, and there was a time last spring when morels felt like a tangible, edible reality. But after an epic search that began prematurely with a hiccup of balmy weather in March, I was starting to wonder if the universe was playing a big trick on me. Do morels really exist, I began to question, or are they the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow, always just out of reach?

After innumerable hours staring at the ground in quiet desperation, I have finally found my treasure. It began as a typical morning, as Jenna, Judah, and I nonchalantly traipsed through the woods discussing the weather, work, our upcoming wedding, and other quotidian matters. I was listening to Jenna as she talked about the design project she is working on at the office, but I wasn’t looking at her. As always, I was looking at the ground, which is not nearly as charming or attractive as Jenna, but has the distinct advantage of harboring potential mushrooms. She has gotten used to my wandering eyes on our morning hikes, and kindly puts up with it. That is one of the many reasons why I am marrying her.

I made fleeting eye contact as I asked Jenna some questions about her job, and then the conversation inevitably turned to morels. “You know, the ground is finally starting to look quite moist,” I commented, fishing for approbation. I’m sure I sounded rather pathetic, like a teenager sprouting a few hairs telling his father, “You know Dad, my beard is really starting to take off!”

Jenna remained silent. Not quite getting the affirmation I needed to stay hopeful in my hunting, I continued:

“And with the warm weather, it really feels like the morels should be coming out any day now.” I have been making comments like this since March. Jenna nodded her head ever so slightly, as I began to wonder whether I’d ever have the pleasure of eating a morel again.

A collection of morels found this morning!

And then, in that most dire of moments, I had a revelation. And the revelation came in the form of a mushroom. It had a blonde, pitted cap, and it was hiding in the grass beneath a small clump of aspen. It wasn’t just any mushroom – it was a yellow morel. When I find a hefty hen of the woods in the fall, I am known to let out a reflexive yelp followed by a victory dance; when I find a morel, there is no room for such childlike revelry. I gazed down at my find in genuine disbelief, silent and solemn. The spring miracle I had prayed for had finally arrived.

Suddenly, a warm voice interrupted my revelry. “Ar, what’s going on?” Jenna asked. For the first time during the hike, we made sustained eye contact. When she saw my beaming smile, she knew exactly what was going on.

One lonely morel would’ve been more than enough, and initially it appeared that this yellow fellow was riding solo. But as I started to come to my senses, I noticed a second yellow huddling beneath a honeysuckle bush next to the aspen grove. Before either of us could muster any words, Jenna and I began scouring the area around the aspen trees, and came up with another eight yellows as well as a couple of rotting blacks. Though these morels were a welcome addition to our basket, nothing could compare to the mix of relief, awe, and exhilaration I felt when I discovered the first yellow. Well, perhaps one thing could . . . I hope to relive the entire experience tonight when dinnertime rolls around!

ForageCast: First Find of the Season

Ari marvels at one of the giant strophs.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: my morel count is still at zero. Zero blacks, zero yellows, zero half-frees. Not even a lousy false morel.

To be fair, morels are just coming into season in Northern Vermont. But ever since the early onset of spring jumpstarted the morel season down south in March, I have been staring at the ground with the tenacity of a hungry hawk hunting for prey. Now that morels finally have arrived in my neck of the woods, I already feel somewhat defeated. Perhaps I should’ve patiently waited until there was actually a reasonable chance of finding a morel to begin looking, but I couldn’t help myself.

Still, I am not giving up – spotting a heaping pile of pristine local yellow morels in the local coop yesterday was just the push I needed to keep me fierce and hopeful in my hunting. Morels really are out there now, even though I often feel like I am searching for a needle in the haystack of Vermont’s endless fields and forests.

I may not have any morels in my satchel, but I am no longer empty-handed. On Friday as I drove past my elementary school on the way to our mushroom workshop in Montague, MA, I had my first big find of the season.

“Strophs! Pull over!” I screamed, as my dad’s foot brought the vehicle to a screeching halt. I ran out of the car towards a mulched area brimming with dinner plate-sized shrooms, and a closer inspection proved my drive-by ID accurate. Usually when strophs reach such epic proportions they are already past the eating stage, but the brick red color of these moist, fragrant caps proved they were still in their prime. We filled up a grocery bag and drove home, where we enjoyed the caps for dinner and saved plenty to share with workshop participants.

As I gave a foraging presentation during the workshop the next day, we had another auspicious mushroom moment. I was highlighting the species currently on the ForageCast, and I had just arrived at a slide on reishi mushrooms and explained that they should be emerging from local hemlocks any day now. Perfectly on cue and completely unexpectedly, a graduate from one of my workshops last year swung open the door with a glowing smile and a bandana full of freshly harvested reishi.

Reishi is a powerful medicinal mushroom that makes an ideal candidate for tincturing, but it is usually too woody for the sauté pan. However, the white growing tips of young reishi mushrooms make a delicious meal with a complex earthy, slightly bitter flavor. The workshop graduate, who has become a fervent forager, cooked up the tender reishi tips after the workshop, saving the woodier bases for a tincture. Medicine has never tasted so good!

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of May 14, 2012!

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