Foraging for mushrooms can be tricky, and sometimes dangerous. Let me walk you through some of the best pointers for finding morels. They are a delicacy, and even comparing them to their more toxic twins.
First, my usual warning to you:
“Never touch or eat anything you don’t know — even a touch may cause irritation.
Never pick singles — they are trying to populate. Wait for a group.
Never trespass. Always ask permission on private land.
Know your stuff! Take a course in foraging, or get hold of a really good book.”
Have you heard of morels? Small towers of deliciousness in a maze of ‘shrooms. Don’t ask anyone where to find them. They won’t tell you. Morel locations are closely guarded secrets.
Yesterday, I found my first morels. The ones I picked weren’t giants. They weren’t meal-sized. They weren’t even share-sized, although I did share. They were yummy, really yummy, though I am certainly no chef and would like to taste them in a restaurant.
I will tell you that they can be tricky to find. They seem to like dark, moist earth in beech and sugar maple bushes, and you can find them easiest after a rain. (In case you were wondering, these tiny morsels were among some much larger ones, but I couldn’t see myself taking too many on my first try.)
To identify morels, note that they have a brainy looking or honeycomb top and a white or yellow stem. THE MOST IMPORTANT FEATURE is that the stems are hollow. If you find something that looks like morels but the stem is not hollow, it is a false morel. LEAVE IT ALONE!
If you can find someone who knows the woods, perhaps someone who specializes in mycology (fungi), ask to tag along with them. Don’t know anyone? Ask your friends on social media. I recommend that you always go into the woods with someone, especially if picking plants you don’t know well.
Cooking morels is sooo easy! I just fry them in olive oil, season with pepper, and eat. You can use breadcrumbs or panko and deep fry them, but always cook them. They are not meant to be eaten raw.
The other treat I found and fried was pheasant back fungus, or dryad saddle. It was huge, and I had no idea how to prepare it. So, I checked out the online videos. After watching a couple of those, I became an armchair expert. Scoop out the spores (the spongy part), chop off the black stem, thinly slice, fry in butter until crispy (mine were still wiggly and chewy, but who has patience for cooking, anyway?) and eat. And share.
This photo shows a current year’s pheasant back (right) and last year’s, all curled up and absent its spores.
Give pheasant back fungus the ol’ “scratch and sniff” test. To many, it smells like watermelon or melon. It must be eaten all in one sitting, for it doesn’t store well. You can add it to ramen or soups, or season it any way you wish. We all enjoyed it. Next time, I will pick a smaller tail, or invite more people over for a meal.
Pheasant back fungus can be found on trees that are dead or dying, and you will usually find many. HINT: Take your binoculars and turn on your GPS so you can find them again next year.
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So, that’s it for my foraging for fungi exploration.Remember to protect yourself against ticks, fleas and mosquitoes, leave nothing of yours behind, and ask the experts.
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