The mighty morel hunters

12 May

We duck into the underbrush at a point that looks just as good as any.  Sweat beads on our faces on this first muggy day of the season.  Blackberry brambles trap our ankles.  Buckthorn rips at our arms.  The ticks and mosquitoes compete for our blood.  Oh yeah! We’re a couple tough broads delving into the woods in hunt of our prey.

And then. . . we come across our quarry. . . My hunting pal, J, stops in her tracks, startled, points, her already dainty voice raises at least four octaves to squeal,

“Morel!”

And then another, and another, a forest floor blanketed in delicious crinkled fungi.  We squealed.  We giggled.  Yes, we actually jumped up and down and hugged in delight at our find.  I’m pretty sure everything about it was exactly the way burly deer hunters react to a good harvest.

The mighty hunter stands over her catch

Yes, that’s right, there we were, a couple gals hunting for mushrooms in the Wisconsin woods.  To the uninitiated – morels really are worth the excitement.  They are uncommonly delicious.  But they are also simply uncommon – they’re picky little buggers!  They grow for a limited time window in the spring just as the chilly rains yield to the first warm sunny days.  They require the right soil, right moisture, right dead tree – and, I think, the right luck.  We were lucky today!  I’ve been less lucky on many other days of foraging!  Thus far, my ratio of morel finding per morel hunting doesn’t really qualify me to offer any grand tips on just what all those just rights are.

Our first find of the day was the best.  We found a couple other trees with the odd half-shriveled mushroom.  We found one lovely dead tree, with one lonely morel underneath.  The ground cover was dominated by garlic mustard.  Any more expert foragers out there know what a shady garlic mustard understory does to fungus growth?

Stella demonstrates the extent of garlic mustard invasion on the forest floor

side note – Garlic mustard is a nasty nasty invasive across the Midwest!  It can force out some of the other lovelies and tasties from the forest floor – boo! You can recognize garlic mustard by its heart-shaped leaves and little cross-like white flowers.  Be sure to eradicate it on your own land – yes, even check your yard in town, those cute flowers along the back fence might be an invader!  Even better, pitch in if you hear of removal efforts on a local trail or favorite park.  We did our small part by picking some to add to our foraged dinner – oh yeah, garlic mustard is no misnomer – it’s pretty tasty – help the woods, try a pesto!

Our foraging (and recent foray into the Madison Farmers’ Market) culminated in a spring time masterpiece of a dinner!  A salad of watercress topped with fried Jerusalem artichoke chips, J’s no-knead sourdough covered in sautéed morels, and a main dish of morels stuffed with ramps, garlic mustard and goat cheese, finished with sorbet from last summer’s Door County cherries and fresh rhubarb sauce foraged from the front yard.  Yummmm.

Fruits of the forest for dinner

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