Spring Mushrooms, Week Ending 4/26/2020

You guys! We finally found a morel (Morchella spp)!

And by “we”, I mean my husband, who has some strange knack for spotting fungus. But by the transitive laws of marriage, what’s his is mine. Especially wild mushrooms!

Wild mushrooms aren’t usually a huge part of my foraging practice. Aside from a few very well known (and hard to mistake for anything poisonous) examples, I generally focus on plants rather than fungus. But morels … I had to try.

We search the forest each spring for these legendary finds. I knew they come up around the same time as ramps (which I’ve also never found), and I knew they grew in this area based on reports of other mushroom hunters nearby.

We finally found a morel!
We finally found a morel!

This spring, we (he) finally found one. ONE. Actually, there was a second as well, but it had been knocked over and was starting to rot. (Alas.) We spent several hours in the woods, up and down hills and ravines, and found ONE.

I’ve read a lot of morel hunting tips. Specific varieties of trees, sites (like south facing hillsides), weather conditions – you name it. This one didn’t seem to care what the tips said, sitting on a level piece of ground and growing under an Amur honeysuckle rather than a stately tree.

One. Lone. Morel.
One. Lone. Morel.

Luckily our kids held zero interest in the morel, so we each enjoyed half of it. I cut it in fourths, and sauteed the pieces in salted butter. They seemed to get crispier as they cooked, rather than softer, and the end resulted crunched and tasted somewhat like bacon.

Morel quarters cooking in butter
Morel quarters cooking in butter

Was the flavor really worth all the morel mystique? I’ll have to find and eat a few more to really say for sure!

While hunting morels, we also found a few specimens of another spring edible fungus, dryad’s saddle, aka pheasant back (Cerioporus squamosus). I have always considered dryad’s saddle the “consolation prize” for the frustrated morel hunter. They smell like cucumbers or watermelon rinds. As they grow larger, they get tougher and less pleasant to eat. This first photo shows one that was marginally too large. (I should have included my hand or some object for size reference.) I harvested it, but only cooked the outer edges of the piece.

Dryad's saddle - a little on the large size
Dryad’s saddle – a little on the large size

Smaller is definitely better for dryad’s saddle. I found two at this small size.

The ideal eating size for a dryad's saddle
The ideal eating size for a dryad’s saddle

Sauteed in butter with a pinch of salt and garlic powder (ok, minced garlic if you want to be fancy), dryad’s saddle are absolutely delicious.

We also found a possible location for maitake, aka hen-of-the-woods (Grifola frondosa). Maitake is a fall-time parasitic fungus that grows at the base of trees like oaks. This crumpled white mess may have been the site of a fruiting body last year; definitely worth returning to check in a few months!

Possible site of maitake to check again in a few months
Possible site of maitake to check again in a few months

Maitake mushrooms can be found in Asian food stores, but it’s always more fun to find your own in the wild!

Which may raise the question in your mind: why on earth would we spend several hours in the woods, for what ended up being just a few mouthfuls of food? We definitely expended more calories than we harvested! But for that few hours, nothing existed except the hunt. Everything was quiet and still, with all your senses focused on the forest floor. There was no virus; no masks; no social distancing; no looming economic collapse. Nothing but you, and your ever elusive prey. Even if we (he) hadn’t found the one morel, the trip still would have been worth it for the balance, calm, and centering it brought us.

What are you hunting in your area this spring?

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