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Three of the 300 morels

It was 11am, and our morel count for the day had already topped 300. We were not hunting the mighty burns out West, nor were we in the Midwest’s exceptionally fertile morel grounds. My guide, a gracious and seasoned hunter with a keen instinct towards ecological patterns, had led me to a mystery Vermont morel motherlode.

Discovering such epic patches requires an intimate understanding of soil, pitch, tree identification, region, timing, and other mysterious factors. Fortunately my guide knew exactly where we were heading as we scrambled through the dense undergrowth.

After climbing steeply uphill through brambles and downed branches, we arrived at the periphery of the hunting grounds. My chest reeled with adrenaline as I spotted the first trio of spectacular yellows. Morel hunting, which had always seemed thoroughly unpredictable and menacingly difficult in the Northeast, became delightfully abundant as our gaze fell from one morel to the next cluster. My morel eyes were on, for they had to be. This experience was not to be missed.

The whole cast of characters was present, including jaw-dropping and sprawling flushes of blacks, yellows, and two different false morels – Verpa bohemica, with cottony interior, and Gyromitra esculenta, with wrinkly, convoluted interior. Eating either of these falsies is strongly ill-advised.

My guide had informed me that this patch was one of dozens of comparable, even better, patches he had found throughout the last four years. I had only the morning to hunt, but just before 5pm, he let me know that he had found an additional couple hundred large yellows after I left. Not bad.

I have hillside porcini patches, yellowfoot bogs and black trumpet carpets, and with most foraging species, I see a method to the madness, clear patterns and predictable fruitings. But with morels, I have known only modest patches. I have enjoyed some delectable morels over the years, but the only time I found over 100, I soon thereafter realized the patch was adjacent to a contaminated superfund site.

Today the morels were from pristine forests deep in the rich woods, spilling out from trees by the dozen. These were some of the most generous trees I had ever seen. Many expert foragers I know report finding 100-200 morels in a strong season. Today, 100 became a marker for a good hour, rather than a good year of morel hunting. In the world of my guide, who has seemingly cracked the New England morel code, morels are everywhere, and new potential patches lie around each forested corner.

Upon arriving home, it wasn’t long before our daughter Eliana took interest, and reached into the bag to pull a nice selection of yellows, grays, and one black for the cast iron pan. I can report that their flavor, after a seven-minute sauté with butter and thinly sliced ramp bulbs, was divine.