Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Quest for Morels


It was around four o'clock in the afternoon when Jim, one of my regular customers at work, called my cellphone. The previous day Jim had overheard me discussing my insecurities about finding morels, and my doubt that there were many - if any - popping up locally. Displeased with my negative outlook, he encouraged me with hope generated from his previous days finds of over a hundred and thirty yellows.

Though this weeks findings were marked at a high of zero morels, I was rearin' and ready to go for my two consecutive days off and could barely focus at work with the prospect of going out shrooming again. It's a disease I tell you! An absolutely dreadful life-controlling disease that lasts only about a month or so out of the spring!

Sensing my dilemma, Jim, who up until a few hours ago I only knew as "Bagel Guy" (as he brings me left over bagels from his bakery) offered to take me out looking for this seemingly elusive choice edible. I gave him my number and looked forward to the experience. After work, around 4 o'clock, that's when he called.

Driving along numerous country roads we drove slowly and pointed out every dead or dying elm that our eyes could find, subsequently pissing off a number of drivers behind us. Each dead elm yielded nothing. A few yielded brown non-morel types. His tips were intriguing, and I quickly learned how to discern the American Elm from the score of other hardwoods growing in our area. I also took quick to the fact that Jim was absolutely mortified of snakes.

We stopped the car near the local quarries and got out to check around a couple of the dead elms that stood sadly with entire sheathes of bark missing from their trunk. Branches also nearly bare, it was a result of dutch elm's disease - a disease caused by a wicked beetle and (ironically) a fungus. If any GOOD is to come of this elm killing disease, it is that it is very common around here and that morels need certain types of dead or dying trees to thrive. On this stop we found only a strange polypore mushroom known as Dryad's Saddle (below) -- another useful addition to my photo collection! Still no morels however. (Even after I nearly stepped on a thick black snake which resulted in Jim emitting a womanly shriek and tripping over himself to get away with eyes as large as dinner plates!)

Dryads Saddle

Eventually we returned to a spot that Jim had found morels days prior - but had thought to be picked clean. He was sadly mistaken, as I managed to find quite a few! He told me that any I could find, I could also keep (his mistake) and as I'm sure you've probably already guessed, I found some! Sure enough I wound up finding and keeping 43 yellow morels.

Yellow Morel

Yellow Morel

The habitat was streamside, giving way to an eventual dying elm at irregular intervals along it's banks. It's no wonder either, with weather being so dry the mushrooms seemed to cling to the soil which was shielded by heavy grass and with some drier morels poking out of piles of dried soybean at the field edge. Of the lot, only two elms were found to have morels - one of which HAD been picked clean the previous day by Jim. The other however yeilded 83 more yellow morels (since Jim's 130) by the time darkness set in - forty three of which were in my brown paper bag.

"Gray" Yellow Morels

Taking a number of photographs of these fabulous fungi for personal and sharing purposes, I headed home. Hungry and (admittingly)curious, I fried a good portion of my finds in butter with a pinch of garlic only to discover that every good thing I've read about morels was indeed true. Far superior to the slimy egg-like shaggy manes I found last October, the yellow morel is even better tasting than my previous favorite, the sulfur shelf. Then again...I always did prefer the flavor of beef over the flavor of chicken.


OH! And by the way...I still haven't seen or tasted a black morel. Most books and people agree that they are less desirable than yellows, and I fear that it's too late in the spring to find any in my area of the continent. (I could be wrong.) I still consider my quest for morels complete however because of the yellow's superior reputation.

And so tonight, I will sleep a lot better knowing that I have finally experienced the most superior of all morels. Going out tomorrow to (hopefully) find some more.

Yellow Morel