Tag Archives: morels

Field Notes: The End of May

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We have officially transitioned from early spring to late spring, though the change has been a bumpy one. There have been sweltering hot days offset by chill and damp ones. Not quite a normal spring. One of the more noticeable signs for me is that the big old dogwood behind the shed out back has lost all of its cream-colored petals and has fully leafed out. Every morning in the blue pre-dawn light I would marvel at its cascading flowers glowing brightly. The lush grass and budding trees and bushes would remain crepuscular and mysterious, but the dogwood would be alive and kicking, no pre-dawn twilight could keep it down. Now it’s back to its behind-the-scenes modesty, just simply being a tree behind the shed, its moment of fame evaporated into the ether.

Another sure sign of late spring’s arrival is the end of morel season. But boy what a season! I think everyone found a morel this year. I have read that it was a once-in-a-ten-year explosion. I haven’t been seriously looking for that long, so I wouldn’t know. I have been aware of the morel mystery for a long time though, even wrote a short story about them over ten years ago. Back then I thought I’d never find one, but now I know how hard you have to look. This year I found them all over. Friends gave me some! People who don’t even look found them in the weirdest places. Popping out of gravel and sidewalks! Under a line of spruces between two driveways! These are all anomalous places compared to the general rule of dying elms, ashes and abandoned apple orchards. But morels are nothing if not anomalous, in my opinion.

This year, I found them under every one of these types of trees. It was an exciting time, and I feel now as if I had been swept up in a weird wave. Every spare moment was given to exploring possible sites. All my free thinking time was spent wondering where I would go next. Frankly, this obsession is exhausting, and I’m rather glad it’s done! Now when I walk I’m back to my thoughts, instead of wondering where the morels are. Is it like a crush? Although I found several different spots, I picked only a few from each patch. I have a rule that if there are only a few I don’t take any. And when there are a good ten or so, I’ll take about half. It’s not that they are endangered, it’s just the general etiquette. I dehydrated some, and the rest I ate sautéed in a good amount of butter, cooking them thoroughly, served on a good piece of sourdough toast. Did you know that you have to cook morels thoroughly? All wild mushrooms really. And some folks can have a bad reaction to them even after having them with no prior upset before. Always be careful when eating wild mushrooms.

Now my obsession is turned towards the garden, as the still-green strawberries fatten up  and tomatoes are finally planted in the garden. I direct sow most of my garden, but I always buy tomatoes plants. I just don’t have the patience to start them myself. The past few years I have been buying them at the Northern Dutchess Botanical Garden–organic seedlings, great selection and only $1.49 a pop. There are so many great local sales to visit, but it can get crowded and expensive. I bought two Opalkas, which was last year’s winner, a paste variety that is equally delicious canned or sliced for the table. Other tomatoes: Sun Golds, Early Girls, Paul Robeson, Black Krim, Pineapple Beefsteak, and Principe de Borghese, among a few other randoms. The planting of the tomatoes is so filled with hope and desire, adequately taking over the obsession of the morels.

 

Random Notes: Now that the summer is here, I will have less time to be prolific here so I’ve decided to do one post a week, alternating Field Notes with my Kitchen Journal posts. I hope you’ll stick around! Stay tuned on Instagram for almost daily posts…

The Morel of the Story

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It’s a glorious May day. It’s cool and breezy. I woke clutching my blankets around my shoulders, as a cold breeze blew in the open window above my bed. With a sick child at home for the past few days, I felt a walk was in order to clear out my brain. And, let’s be honest, to look for morels. I knew it wasn’t likely I would find any today, but who cares? The walk is always welcome. The bonus is the mushrooms.

Today’s walk will probably be the last morel walk of the season. I did find some this year–ten to be exact–and I’m thankful for that! Apparently, it wasn’t the best year for them in these parts, due to the very bizarre spring weather we’ve had. It’s been hot and dry, not what morels enjoy, and frankly, not what I enjoy either. I’ve had my sprinkler on, and all of my shorts are in my dresser. It’s been feeling more like July, these days, and while I like July, it does have it’s place. In July.

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I am not a serious mushroom forager, but I’ve always been fascinated by them. There are tons of mushrooms on my property, and I’ve been slowly recording them. Just yesterday I found a few russula mariae in my wood chip pile. And I’ve recently done my very first spore print. I’m hooked.

But morels are different, so mysterious, so delicious. That’s why it’s called morel hunting. They seem rather like wood sprites or gnomes to me, almost mischievous. They like certain environments: dying elm tress, old apple orchards, limestone and shale. But sometimes they are found in places where you wouldn’t expect them at all. Seeing as how I’m less than a beginner, I will direct you to this post by Bill Bakaitis, who is a well known “mushroom guru” in these parts. (Leslie Land’s website is still a treasure to me. I am thankful it’s still there to mine for information despite her passing a few years ago.) Another good read is this article he wrote on eating morels you find in orchards, important because of the possibility of poisons leached into the soil of apple orchards, and thus the mushrooms that might grow beneath them.

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My walk today seemed the perfect location: a dying orchard on a southern facing slope near railroad tracks. Limestone outcroppings every so often. The only thing I didn’t see was a dying elm, but I’m sure there was one somewhere there. (How do you identify a dead elm? I am still figuring out live elm. There are so few around here, and I rarely see them.) As I walked through fields of tall grass and skirted the outrageous amounts of poison ivy, I thought how foraging morels was not for the faint of heart. I walked an outline around the edges of the area, not willing to enter the true thicket of prickers and poison ivy. I really hate poison ivy. Not to mention ticks. As I dipped into canopies of leafed out elderly trees, I kept on finding places that felt a little magical, lined with ground ivy and violets. I knew the morels were out there, and it was perfectly fine that they kept on hiding.

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What’s nicest about morel hunting–well, after the finding of them, that is–is that you really have to slow down and look. And when you are slowing down to look you do see a good many things. Most of which are not morels, but that’s beside the point. You see the shiny leaves of the pin oak, and the soft undersides of the silver maple, and the white wrinkly bark of the poplars. You see the soft long grass waving in the wind, the red and shiny new leaves of the poison ivy that sends out runners everywhere. The details seem to pop out everywhere, and there you are, really looking. It’s great meditation. Indeed, if I found the morels (because I know they are out there) I might not have enjoyed such a nice calm breathing practice.

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Out of the ten morels I found, I ate only five. It felt greedy to take all ten of them. I sliced them up and sautéed them in duck fat. Once I had them on toast and the other time with scrambled eggs. Both were perfect. They are so delicious, that I think doing much else with them would be overkill. But I am willing to keep on trying. If only they would comply.

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Morels

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The other day I reluctantly went to mow the last patch of my lawn. There are some things that the warm weather brings that remind me summer is not all popsicles and beach bags. Mowing the lawn is one of them. We leave a lot to grow, and are not obsessed with the lawn, letting whatever wants to grow to do so, but you have to mow at some point unless you want a tick field surrounding your house. These are some of the other things that I do not miss in the winter: ticks (pulled a few so far), poison ivy (already got it on my eyelid and behind my ear), and stinging insects (stepped on a yellow jacket with bare feet on Monday and was out of commission for the day). I’m hoping I’m done with these noxious things for now.

So, here I go out into the back yard to mow the shadiest patch of lawn, that seems to collect little twigs and sticks making it a tough place to mow. After a few swathes through the lawn, I’m about to turn around and mow down the slope when I stopped myself and shut down the engine. There before me was a morel, just pushed out of the ground. Golden brown and honey-combed, I bent down on my knees to inspect it, all the while shouting Wow!! Look at that!! (No, I don’t play poker, and thankfully no one was around to see me freak out except the neighbor’s cat.)

I’ve looked for years for morels and never have. To find one, and a day later, another one nearby, in my own backyard was a real thrill. I didn’t pick either of them, instead created little shrines so I will remember where they are. I feel like looking for morels is like close reading. You can’t scan, you really have to look deeply. It is an art. However, sometimes you do get lucky!

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