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!