Wild Food Wednesday: Morels

back-in-the-day-with-michigan-morelsMichigan is the second most agriculturally diverse state in the U.S. and that diversity doesn’t stop at the market! Our woods are alive with tasty and nutritious food if you know where to look. In our Wild Food Wednesdays we’ll tip you off to seasonal goodies that you can find around TC and give you a recipe or two so you can enjoy the meal as much as the hike to find it!

In the pantheon of wild foods in Northern Michigan, the morel certainly reigns supreme, drawing thousands into the woods & wilds to hunt for this elusive and delicious mushroom. Read on for all kinds of morel goodness including events, pics, a video, tips and a great recipe! Photo: Back in the Day in Boyne City, courtesy National Morel Mushroom Festival

Thanks to Landen & Ben Finkel for the picture

Morchella is derived from morchel, old German for mushroom, with morel derived from the Latin maurus meaning brown. Michigan Morels’ excellent Morel info page says that the black morel (Morchella Elata) usually starts slowly during the last 2 weeks of April with the best hunting in the first 2 weeks in May, with the yellow morels (Morchella Esculenta) kicking off around Mothers Day and being best in the middle of May. Winterpocalypse 2014 has pushed that back some, but we are hearing reports of small finds.

Here are some tips & facts to aid you in your morel quest – add your own in the comments:

  • Morel hunters need to be aware of false morels. Some people have bad reactions to them and they contain carcinogens. Two signs you’ve got a false morel are a gap between the cap and the stem and that when you slice it longways, it’s not hollow like a morel. (view a video)
  • Morels are one of the fastest growing mushroom species, coming to maturity in 12-15 days from the point where they break the surface. Much more in the definitive work on the morel lifecycle by Thomas Volk at the UW Lacrosse. What it means for you is that it can make a lot of sense to let the tiny ones grow for a while in your regular hunting grounds.
  • Speaking of prime spots, most people won’t. Often they are handed down generation to generation and hunters are often very secretive about their spots. Morels are often found near stands of ash & poplar, old apple orchards and the remains of elm trees.Don’t get too into the tree thing though, as many find them near pine & oak as well.
  • Morels are hard for most people to spot, so you want to move slowly and change your perspective sometimes. Seeing the first one seems to tune you in, so don’t get discouraged too soon.

    Landen Cutting Morels

    Landen demonstrates the lengthwise cut

  • When picking a morel, don’t pull it from the ground, pinch or cut it off so you don’t damage the underground mycelium. Use a fine mesh bag like an onion bag if you can to allow the spores to sift out. (More harvesting tips from Michigan Morels)
  • Store morels (if you have to) in a paper bag in the fridge. Best to eat them the night you found them though or dry them. See drying & preservation suggestions here and here.
  • Morels tend to have a lot of grit, and the best way to clean them is to slice them lengthwise (also allowing you to do your false morel inspection) and rinse them in a bowl of water. Usually a couple of bowls will be required and don’t clean them until just before using them.

Our area has a rich tradition of morel hunting, and a couple of major events that celebrate morels. The 55th annual Mesick Mushroom Festival takes place this weekend (May 9-11), and the Boyne City National Morel Mushroom Festival returns for its 54th year May 15-18, 2014. Both events are a lot of fun and feature guided

Morel Poppers (photos & recipe by Chef David Eger)

photo courtesy Earthy Delights

photos below all courtesy Earthy Delights

While lightly breaded morels sautéed in butter are the gold standard, sometimes you want to get a little fancier. This recipe by Chef David Eger from the Earthy Delights blog fits the bill. We can’t help but think that the spicy cheese curds from Boss Mouse Cheese  would be perfect for this!

  • 10 – 12 medium-sized fresh morel mushrooms (about 4 oz)
  • 3 oz mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 serrano chile pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red chile pepper
  • 1 Tbsp sliced chives
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Flake sea salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
Spicy Cheese & Morels

Spicy Cheese & Morels

Gently rinse the morel mushrooms to remove visible dirt. Remove the stems with kitchen scissors or a sharp knife. Trim any discolored or dirty bits off and finely chop the remaining pieces of stem. Set aside.

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add 1 Tbsp salt. Stir well to dissolve the salt. Add the morels and soak for 20 – 30 minutes, gently plunging them under the surface of the water from time to time. This will help to dislodge any grit or debris from the honeycomb structure of the morels and from the interior. (The salt will also flush out any annoying little creepy-crawlers that may have taken up residence.)

Ready-for-Batter

Ready for the Batter

Drain the morels in a colander and gently rinse them again. Place the clean morels on paper towels to dry for a few minutes.

In the meanwhile, carefully dice the cheese into small, 1/8-inch cubes and place them into a small bowl.

Heat the olive oil in a small pan over medium-low heat. Add the chopped garlic, serrano chile and morel stems. Saute briefly until the garlic and chile are softened, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the crushed chile pepper, stir briefly, and remove from the heat. Allow to cool for a minute or two and then add the sauteed ingredients and chives to the diced cheese. Mix briefly to combine the ingredients. Add black pepper to taste.

Frying the Morels

Frying the Morels

Cut a slit in the side of each morel mushroom and fill with as much of the cheese mixture as it will hold. Repeat until all of the morels are filled and set them aside.

Separate the egg yolk and white into very clean small bowls. Using an electric mixer (or whisk by hand if you’re a masochist), beat the egg yolk until it becomes creamy and light yellow in color.

Wash the beater (it must be perfectly clean!) and beat the egg white until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten yolk into the white until it is completely incorporated. It should be light and foamy and pale yellow.

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium-sized pan over medium-high heat. While the oil is heating up, dredge the cheese-filled morels in the flour. Test the temperature of the oil by flicking a drop of the egg mixture into the pan. If it sizzles up immediately, the oil is hot and ready.

Morel Poppers!

Morel Poppers!

Working very quickly, plunge each flour-dusted morel into the egg mixture, making sure it is completely covered, and gently drop it into the hot oil. Repeat with more of the morels, but do not crowd the pan. When the bottom is well-browned, turn each morel with tongs. Turn again to brown all sides as necessary. Remove the cooked morels to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm. Repeat, cooking the remaining filled morels in batches.

Sprinkle the morels generously with the sea salt and serve immediately while piping hot.

Happy hunting and enjoy this great time lapse video by Ken Scott of a group of morels growing!