Monday, February 10, 2014

The Fungus is Among Us: Preparation for Woodland Adventure

The time has come.  I must prepare myself.  
Hiking boots. 
Jacket and hat. 
Maybe the camo.         
My bag. 
My walking stick.  
I anticipate the hunt.  A trip to the wilderness to uncover my thus far elusive prey. I see it in my dreams. I smell it, taste it. I crave it. Once you know it, you will want it too.  
Yes, my friends. The season approaches. The treasured prey I speak of...the morel, also called the hickory chicken, dryland fish, or sponge mushroom.  My Perry County cousins post photos on social media every season of their fist sized beauties. I am envious, salivating and motivated.  I prepare by reading about their hiding places. I burn their image into my mind with photographs as they can be difficult to see. I wait for my suburban lilacs to bloom, and I will know the time is right.  The blooming of the dogwood trees is another good indication.  My busy schedule the past two years has not made much room for the hard target combing of my 14 acres.  By July, I typically regret that it did not have a higher place in my Springtime priorities. But this year will be different. I am going to make the time. If you do an Internet search, you will find that foragers do not share their morel gathering spots. When people find them, they typically keep their stash a secret, some going so far as to wear camo and "Army crawl" through the woods to the riches, which of course can change season to season, further elevating the thrill of the hunt.  Most afficionados collect them to enjoy their goodness at home, some people sell them to local stores and restaurants for a premium price to be eaten by diners who frankly don't quite understand what they are eating. I, on the other hand, am extremely greedy. I want them all for myself. How convenient that their season begins just as I am cleaning up the grill! These babies don't make themselves easy to find either.  Their tall, hollow honeycomb caps blend in with the leaves perfectly and you could step on them without even noticing.  The rich black dirt around fallen trees is a great place to start looking.  Wet and warm is best, all is dependent on rain and temperature.  They can be dried and preserved for future use, but alas this humble writer is too impatient and hungry for such nonsense.  A favorite preparation of mine is to clean them well in a sink of cold lightly salted water (salt will help pull out any dirt and tiny critters), chop and create an earthy risotto to serve with a grilled steak and veggies (my meal is not complete without some green).  Add a glass or two of Cabernet and I am in Heaven.  
Or maybe you might like them fried with butter and garlic. 
Or on a rustic whole wheat pizza.  
I would love to puree them and mix them with semolina for homemade pasta.  A tagliatelle tossed with garlic infused olive oil maybe? 
I'm getting giddy! Holy mackerel! 
No, not mackerel, wouldn't go at all.  But chicken, yeah.  A light marsala with rustic red skin smashed potatoes.  
Any way you choose, it is a meal that is savored and appreciated for what it is.  
It is a labor of love.  
An exciting find.  
An adventure.  
Like Indiana Jones...and the Temple of Shroom.  
I crack myself up.  
On a serious note, if you decide to give it a try, do your homework.  Accept no substitutes.  
Happy Hunting! 

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