Here in Michigan, early May is Morel mushroom harvesting time. I was first introduced to the morel mushroom in the early 90′s. They are considered quite a treasure when you find them, since they have such a short window where they are available to harvest (similar to asparagus and at the same time) and have such a great flavor.
Foraging through the woods on a nice spring day to hunt for mushrooms sure adds to the enjoyment in searching, finding and eating these little gems; there is something so gratifying about finding your own personal patch of morels; this also makes people really secretive about where they go to find them
Knowing most people are so secretive about where they hunt them, I haven’t been able to eat any for some time. This year, though, I felt determined to at least make an effort. To find some for yourself, look in wooded areas with fallen trees of decaying wood. Morels tend to like the hardwoods: Pine; oak; ; elm (especially); poplar. You can also find them in areas that have the invasive garlic mustard, blooming dogwood and moss, since that indicates a moist area.
After a call to my sister and describing the kind of area morels like to grow, she brilliantly suggested I check out some property my father owns about an hour from here. He kept some acreage after selling an old farm-house we lived in for a short time, in the early eighties and I hadn’t been there since we moved. It is a nice piece of parcel, with wild turkeys, deer, hawks, berries as far as you can see and some wetland areas. It also is full of hardwood trees, blooming dogwood, fallen decaying trees, garlic mustard (boo) and moss. Perfect!
Once you know what you are looking for, morels are easy to identify. Though I will give you a run down how to identify the mushroom, I always think it is best to find someone who can go over the identification markings in person. And, you know, maybe watch them cook and eat them first haha.
In all seriousness, here is what they look like:
As you can see here, morels have a brainy look to them with deep crevices. There are greys, which have a gray color, and yellows, which range from whitish yellow to a tan color and everything in between. The most telling mark is the cross-section. The morel is completely hollow throughout the structure. See above how you could almost use the mushroom as a mold? The cap and stem are one piece. To pick, pinch off the stem at the base, gently as morels are quite delicate and will break quite easily if you try to just yank them out of the ground. Also, you have less chance finding them in the same area again, if you pull everything out completely.
Here is a picture of the few I found, cut in half:
I found about eight, both greys and yellows. Now, there is another kind called half-free, but I have never found one, so I don’t feel comfortable giving advice on picking those.
There are two common mushrooms that could be mistaken for the morel.
The first is commonly called the ‘false morel’ or Verpa Bohemica. It looks like the morel from the outside, but if you open it, you will notice some marked differences in structure:
Notice that the stem is not hollow, but filled with a cottony, fuzzy material. Also, the stem attaches all the way at the top of the cap, so essentially, you could pop off the cap of this mushroom, leaving the stem in the ground. You could not do this with the real morel.
Some people eat these, so they will not necessarily hurt you, but others have felt nauseous and a little dizzy after consuming some. I am on the fence whether I will try them. We will see.
The other is the Gyromitra Esculenta. DO NOT EAT: POISONOUS
These mushrooms are larger, squatter, irregular shaped cap and purple, so I would not mistake these for the morel, but it is good to learn the false look-a-likes to help you feel confident about what you are harvesting, especially if you are new to mushroom hunting.
Now that you found some morels, what do you do with them?
Many people love to just dust the morel with flour and fry them. They have a super flavor and a meaty texture. You could use them in any dish that you use more common mushrooms, but just make sure THEY ARE COOKED. Mostly, this is to kill of any bacteria and the like that they may have on them. I tend to heed advice from more experienced hunters when it comes to wild mushrooms, so if they say cook them, I will cook them.
To clean, I quickly run the mushrooms under the tap, then wipe gently with a paper towel. I will run the inside under the tap after slicing in half, as well, to get the dirt off. Some don’t like to use very much water, worried it will dilute the flavor, and mostly just wipe them with a damp paper towel; but then others will soak them for a time. You will have to decide which method you are most comfortable practicing.
Since I didn’t have many morels to use, I decided on a simple pasta dish that I hoped would make the morel shine. I used a flat rice noodle since I should stay away from wheat, but feel free to substitute a spaghetti or linguine.
I learned this garlic-oil pasta technique from Cucina Rustica by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman, but the recipe is mine.
Lemony Garlic Pasta Starring Morel Mushrooms
You will need:
head of garlic
one small to medium lemon
one or two green onions
8-10 Morel Mushrooms (just use what you find, unless you hit the mother load, then dry them and send me some )
-Cook half a box of flat rice noodles
-1/4 cup of Olive Oil and 8-12 garlic cloves sliced. Place in pan to simmer until the garlic starts to turn brown on the edges and becomes opaque.
- cut the MORELS IN LARGE PIECES, with a GREEN ONION, SAUTE GENTLY in a separate pan. I used a little oil, but not too much is needed.
-When the garlic oil looks done, turn off heat and add the juice of a small lemon (less if you think you would prefer it so) and a dash of pepper and 1/2 tsp salt (optional).
-Toss the garlic oil in the drained pasta, then when coated add the mushroom and green onion saute.
I enjoyed the flavors in this simple pasta dish; garlic, fresh lemon, and good meaty bites of mushroom. Wonderful flavors to eat this time of year.
I Hope you are enjoying spring and I would love to have you share any recipes you have for these lovely mushrooms.