Morel mushrooms are in season, and we have some ridiculously delicious new recipes to share with you!
It’s that time of year again: morel mushrooms are fruiting!
Where we live in southern Appalachia (Greenville, SC), the season starts off with huge blond morels that fruit for about 2-3 weeks. Then comes the smaller tulip morels. If we drive north to the mountains in Asheville, we’ve also found half-free morels that fruit at the same time as tulip morels.
While we can’t tell a difference in flavor between the three morel subspecies we’ve eaten, we can certainly tell a difference in size. A large blond morel is probably equivalent to about 20 or more tulip morels. That means if you’re trying to find enough morels to dehydrate to last you throughout the year, you’ll want to take full advantage of the time window when blond morels are fruiting.
We consider ourselves to be very generous and sharing people: for instance, we give away more produce each year than most gardeners probably grow. However, our sharing instincts evaporate when it comes to sharing locations or tips for finding morels. Why? There aren’t many morel mushroom foraging spots in our area, and we’re increasingly encountering people looking in spots that we once considered “secret spots” that nobody else would likely find.
Yep, we have a scarcity mindset when it comes to our precious morel mushroom spots. Nope, that hasn’t stopped us from giving some of our morel mushrooms away to close friends and family.
2018 Morel Mushrooms – A Tall Tale That’s Actually True
We’ve all heard tall tales of the time our friend caught a fish “this big” (reality: the fish was slightly bigger than a minnow) or found “buckets full of gourmet mushrooms” (reality: it was more like a pint jar full).
We’ve had good morel mushroom hunts in past years, but with spring weather becoming increasingly mercurial and unpredictable, we never know whether it’s going to be a good or bad morel season. Late freezes can burn them back; intense heat waves can push soil temps up too far too fast, thus making the season unusually short or even non-existent.
Each year in early March, we send emails back and forth with our dear friend and fellow morel enthusiast Evan, who moved to Knoxville a few years ago. We compare soil temperature maps, morel sighting maps, and other information to try to time our foraging excursions just right – not too early, not too late. There’s nothing more disappointing than him driving three hours to get here, then us driving around to our best spots, only to return with an empty basket.
This past weekend, we managed to time our excursion just right. Between the two of us, we filled my large foraging basket beyond capacity after visiting three great spots we discovered in previous years. (Two of them even had clean-cut morel “stumps” so we weren’t the first people to visit them this season.)
The Tyrant had to stay home to finish a work project, but upon hearing of our good fortune, a second day excursion was immediately planned.
The following day, we visited a fourth spot that had proven fruitful in years past. Two other foragers were out looking and the spot produced a single morel. Bust. Time to explore and find new spots.
The Tyrant, Wizard of Morel Mushrooms
The Tyrant is a bit of a wizard when it comes to technical details. She pulled up a Google visual map and started looking around the area. “This spot looks like it has potential,” she said as we drove through the South Carolina countryside.
Once you know what a morel spot looks like, you know what a morel spot looks like. You just do. When we saw this new spot in person, we all exchanged excited expletives. It looked like morel heaven and it was in the middle of nowhere.
We quickly exited the car and made our way into the woods. Within about 10 feet, I saw two large blond morels staring at me. Then, Evan, our friend Nathaniel, and The Tyrant all started shouting “here’s one!” “Another one!” “There’s four right here!”
There were at least two square mile of prime terrain brimming with morel mushrooms. It’s a small miracle that our brains didn’t overdose on dopamine from all the excitement.
We returned home that evening feeling very proud of ourselves, and with at least 2x more morel mushrooms than our previous day’s massive haul, that pride was well-deserved.
A true tall tale? We found so many morels that we couldn’t fit our portion of the weekend’s harvest into our fridge. We consider this to be a good problem, especially since we have an Excalibur dehydrator on hand in the event such emergencies arise.
Morel Mushrooms: New Recipes!
With so many morel mushrooms, we wanted to get a little crazy with our dinner and include morels in every dish, including dessert.
- The appetizer was morel mushroom pâté based on this recipe (we amended the recipe by adding ground hazelnuts and a bit of lemon juice).
- The Tyrant decided to candy some morels in a maple syrup butter glaze to be included in a chocolate morel torte she made for dessert that was out of this world delicious (based on this recipe).
- Evan then used the leftover morel-maple-butter from The Tyrant’s candied morels as a glaze on pan-roasted pastured chicken (no recipe for this one).
- Our starch was pearl barley and morel reduction with fresh garden herbs, based loosely on this recipe.
- We also had a side salad made from garden greens picked right outside our front door that was garnished with crispy fried morels.
We all agreed it was one of the best meals we’d ever eaten. It was also a good reminder of how centrally important food is to our lives… It enhances our friendships, it profoundly and deeply connects us with the world around us, and it provides mental and physical medicine that maintains our overall health.
We forage, garden, and farm not out of necessity, but because these things enrich our lives. We’ll never forget the great morel foray of 2018. Here’s looking forward to 2019, and many other memories shared in the woods and at the dinner table with people we love!
More fun fungi articles you might enjoy:
- How to identify and use chanterelle mushrooms
- 6 gourmet and medicinal mushrooms you can easily grow in your garden
- How to find, identify, grow, and cook chicken of the woods mushrooms
- How to find and prepare maitake mushrooms
- Step by step: how to grow shiitake mushrooms
- A delicious indigo milkcap recipe