We wait. Every year. There are meeting spots, family secrets never shared with anyone outside of the clan. Careful monitoring of temperature and precipitation. Once everything aligns, a few days of showers followed by warm days, everyone ventures to the bush. And there we scrounge around for Morchella esculenta, looking past the hazelnut leaves, nettles and Heuchera spp., trying to spot the intrepid critters so adept at blending in to the forest floor.
It's a generational activity with favourite hotspots passed down between family members. We follow our parents and grandparents through the underbrush and then begin dragging along our cranky toddlers. It speaks to their lure when you carry a cranky two year old through the bush while in a half-crouch, balancing your pail so as not to spill its precious cargo.
I thought some tips may be in order, so you too can experience the Hotel California of the bush, the insatiable quest of the shroom.
Exactly What am I Looking For?
1. Firstly, know what you are picking! Mushrooms are not to be trifled with. There are species with chemicals that literally eat you from the inside out. Get in touch with local mycological societies. Go out with someone who has a lot of experience and knows what they are doing!
I cannot over emphasize this. Enjoy the experience, the bush and any edibles you may collect but do your homework (and by homework, I don't mean a quick reference to a guide book).
2. We wait for a few days of showers after the snow has left the bush. Usually the northern aspects have no snow left. Then after the showers, we wait for warm weather. Wait a day or so and then head out. If we don't find any the first time out, we'll wait a day or two and then check again.
3. Morels are easiest to pick in grazed bush. The underbrush isn't as dense and less poke prone.
4. Pick them with a knife, cutting them off at ground level. This little act will save you a lot of cleaning effort later! The less bush debris in your pail, the faster you get to the eating part, after, of course, double-checking with someone that knows you don't have fungi of death in your pail!
Time to Eat!
1. Our favourite way is the Romanian peasant-immigrant recipe, lots of green onion, whipping cream, salt and pepper. Clean, put mushrooms in a pot, liberally add whipping cream and green onion. Cook gently, uncovered, for a half-hour or so, stirring every so often.
2. Serve them with other seasonal finds, spring eggs, asparagus, fiddleheads. I dream about serving our free-range, orange-yolked, soft-boiled (that's a LOT of commas and hyphens, probably breaking some sort of grammar dictate there!) eggs in a morel sauce with roasted asparagus on the side. We have egg allergies in the house, so our use of eggs is pretty limited and generally confined to baking. If you do go this route, please comment and I will live the experience through you.
3. Make a whipping creamy sauce with dill, chives and grass-fed beef meatballs. Serve over boiled potatoes or rice, or egg-noodles (again, sadly, a no go but there is no egg noodle in this world worth ambulances, epi-pens and chances involving death).
You can see we are pretty free and easy with our whipping cream. We like it, it tastes great and we work hard outside. So far, so good. And it's simple things like whipping cream that make life grand. We don't need fancy cars and chandeliers, cause we've got cream!
So, when we break out the morels, it's paired with cream. And this year, for dessert, our favourite recipe was vanilla honey stewed rhubarb drizzled with, you called it! (am I predictable, or what?), whipping cream. The kids loved it. The kids ate it, with nary a complaint (a huge, stress relieving, sigh-of-relief accomplishment).
And 95% of the above is local. We had to buy the whipping cream (because our cows are getting ready to calve and I haven't gotten a barn for my birthday yet; Fingers are crossed!) and vanilla from the store. Otherwise, we found everything in our backyard. Well, not quite everything. My sincere apologies, however, the family I married into isn't giving up all their secrets.