18 April 2011

treasure hunting

fungal fever, morel madness, whatever you want to call it, we've got it! some of you may recall how i stumbled upon one solitary morel, at the end of mushroom season last year. that is the only morel i had ever found, and only the second time i've ever tasted one. the first one doesn't exactly count. my mom and stepfather gave me a bite of some they had found when i was about 13 or so. i wasn't sure i liked it, and they didn't exactly want me too, since they had found so few.

yesterday, cosmo took us out into the woods where his montessori class had taken their annual wildflower walk. he wanted to find a treasure hidden under a board in a bridge, that one of the kindergartners had told him about.

turns out it was a letterbox, and the first i'd heard of this charming pastime. after we checked that out, we continued walking on the trail, and i started thinking about morels, and mentioned to carl that sky had told me that the deer eat them. "sad, isn't it?" carl mused on the notion of the opposite of do animals feel pain? --can animals appreciate such distinguished culinary delights as morel mushrooms? approximately 2.5 minutes later, i saw one, right there, white stem glowing in the dappled sunlight, just on the edge of the trail! so, we wondered off the trail, looking for more (they say you never see just one).

i found a couple more, then carl found some. we gathered 16 total! it was all very exciting, though i wasn't completely sure they were morels. later, when we were enjoying our picnic lunch

(gawd! how i love purple sauerkraut on a sandwich!) we saw a couple of other folks exiting the woods with laden bags. carl stopped one of them and confirmed that what we had was indeed edible. a variety of morel commonly called "peckerheads" (lovely).

at home on the innernets, i found what i needed to reassure me that these were not false morels, and were known as some of the earliest morels of the season. sometimes they are called half-frees due to the way in which the cap attaches to the stem.

we had just seasoned our new wok, to a stunning shade of bronze, and decided the morels should be the inaugural dish prepared in the wok, even though cooking them required more of a saute than a stir fry.

it did the job beautifully, and we enjoyed our melt-in-your-mouth foraged feast with a gingered cauliflower dish (also prepared smashingly in the wok).

who would have guessed that the best woks (hand hammered, carbon steel) can also be among the least expensive. our dear friend, mr. kelty, tipped us off to that (thanks chris).

weirdest thing happened the next day...i was walking home from work, up an alley, off a busy street, and spotted a perfect specimen, of a different variety (one of the yellows, or creams?).

this one had popped up in the unlikely medium of of grass, weeds and gravel. i only found the one, then heard a few hours later that a neighbor had found one in her backyard! we headed back out to the woods that night and brought home 14 more!

what came to mind, when i was looking for them the second time, is that it seems i've been training my whole life for mushroom hunting. as a child, i looked down when walking, not because of low self esteem, i've just always been one to visually scour the ground, searching for overlooked treasures. I have been rewarded amply for this habit over the years; i've found cash, earrings, fossils, sea shells, beads, toys and various sorts of paraphernalia. my eyes want to scan a dappled landscape and find a slightly distinct dappled thing, camouflaged within that landscape. it is a great thrill, and i'm good at it.

i hear it's a good year for mushrooms. and a great year for amateurs.

p.s. even cosmo likes the taste of morels.