Finally, morel mushroom season has arrived in California.
After nearly 1,000 miles of driving around the Sierra Nevada, searching for old forest fires and checking this elevation or that one — are they at 2,000 feet? Maybe 4,000? — I have finally hit on a good spot, thanks to a tip from my friend Carter. I came home with nearly 4 pounds yesterday, and even though I needed to drive 3 hours each way to get them, it was still worth it.
Another few pounds and I will be set for the year. Believe it or not, that makes me pretty conservative in the morel hunting community. People go crazy for morels and I am not entirely sure why. Don’t get me wrong, I like eating morels a lot. But I would much rather eat porcini, or matsutake, or the springtime amanita.
I think there are two reasons for morel mania: The mushroom is ridiculously easy to identify — it’s a honeycomb on a stick — and they grow almost everywhere in North America. The season typically begins in Georgia as early as February, and by March the South is in full gear. After that comes the bulk of the morel harvest, in the central Midwest; this is the epicenter of Moreldom. By May, the mushrooms are popping here in California, in the Pacific Northwest, the Upper Midwest and in New England. If I play my cards right, and keep looking at higher and higher elevations, I can pick morels into July.
So I reckon that morels are a fitting ingredient for a challenge. My colleagues Annette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols have written a book that is close to my heart: the Urban Farm Handbook: City Slicker Resources for Growing, Raising, Sourcing, Trading, and Preparing What You Eat. Very similar to my other favorite urban (or suburban) homesteading book, Sunset Magazine’s The One-Block Feast: An Adventure in Food from Yard to Table, Cottrell and McNichols’ book runs through ways normal house-dwellers can take greater charge of what they feed themselves and their families. It is a domestic companion to what I am trying to accomplish with wild food in Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast.
Annette is doing a year-long Urban Farm Handbook Challenge on her blog Sustainable Eats, and she’s asked me to come up with a foraging challenge for the month of May. What better ingredient than morels?
So here is your challenge: Go find some morels and cook with them before May 31. Give me your best recipe and you can win any one of these prizes:
- A copy of my book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast
- Or my friend Langdon Cook’s book, Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager
- Or Jennifer Hahn’s book, Pacific Feast: A Cook’s Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine
- Or some mushroom plugs for you to inoculate in your own yard. Having mushrooms in your yard makes foraging a LOT easier…
What? You don’t know how to forage for morels? Here’s a quick primer:
- Morels like trees. You will always find them within a few yards of their host tree, although which tree depends on where you are. Dying elms are a big one in the Midwest and Northeast, as are ash and maple. Douglas fir is big in the Pacific.
- Morels love apple and other fruit orchards, but in these places they can accumulate lots of residual pesticide, so be wary. Same goes for “mulch morels,” which can turn up in your mulch in early spring. If that mulch includes toxic, pressure-treated wood shreds, your morels can actually make you ill, although that’s never happened to me.
- If you live west of the Rockies, look for areas of forest that burned last year. We get burn morels here, and they come up like crazy after a forest fire. These are some I got yesterday:
- In mountains, morels generally like to pop somewhere between 500 and 1000 feet below the snow line.
- Look for high temperatures in the 70s and lows in the 40s. Any colder and you won’t normally find morels. Any hotter and they dry up in a day or so.
- If you see this mushroom, Verpa conica, true morels will follow them very soon.
And if you see this mushroom, called a cup fungus, look alive! Morels should be near them…
So what happens if your season for morels is over? Or you don’t have time or the inclination to forage for your own? No worries, just buy some morels and enter the challenge that way. Many high-end supermarkets carry fresh morels, and most decent places carry dried morels. You can also buy morels online through places like Earthy Delights.
Once you make your morel recipe, you can do one of several things:
- Post a photo of the dish on the Facebook pages of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook and Sustainable Eats.
- Leave the recipe in the Comments section below.
- If you are a blogger, leave a link to your morel post/recipe in the Comments section.
Finally, at the end of May let Annette know you’re in the challenge by leaving her a note on her May Roundup Post, which you will find here around May 31.
Looking for ideas for cooking with morels? I have an entire section of mushroom recipes, plus I have recipes for venison with morel sauce, a salad of morels, ramps and fiddleheads over farro, duck roulades with morels, a wild mushroom ragu and striped bass stuffed with morels.
Good luck! I can’t wait to see what you come up with.