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Morel Mushrooms

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A Morel Mushroom Journey

Bringing Childhood Memories to Life on a Hunt for the Elusive Morel Mushroom

Article by Ashley Loeb

Photography by Ashley Loeb

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

I’ll never forget the day I discovered that my favorite mushroom grew in Idaho. “They have morel mushrooms here!” I exclaimed, while savoring the seasonal melt-in-your-mouth creamy morel mushroom chicken dish at 13th Street Pub and Grill. I instantly transported back to my childhood memories of hunting for these delicious yet elusive mushrooms in Ohio with my family in the forest surrounding my grandfather’s farmland. The challenge of finding them always thrilled me despite the hunt being like searching for a needle in a haystack, and I’m certainly not alone in my excitement about these fabulous little fungi. Because they are foraged and have a short season, they are a prized possession and quite expensive if you don’t find them on your own!

Having spent several years in Phoenix, where mushrooms did not thrive, I was as happy as a kid in a candy store to have the opportunity to search for this tasty delicacy again. And when my brother moved to Boise the following year, I had a mushroom hunting partner! We just had to wait for the right moment, at the edge of spring, when  evenings remain cool and days reach 60-70 degrees. In Boise, this is typically in April or May while the season extends a bit later in the more northern Idaho regions, with weather causing the timeline varying slightly every year. Figuring out where to search can take some digging. You can gleam the general region to locate morels by following the Idaho Morel Mushrooms Facebook group, but few people will share their specific  “secret” morel spots. Because about 63% of land in Idaho is public, there’s a lot of ground to consider.  Morels tend to like leaf-covered ground, especially from cottonwood trees. Burn areas and soil that previously disturbed can also be hot spots while a lucky few have found them in their backyards!

As the weather warmed, my brother and I set out on an early day, beginning our mushroom hunting journey near the Boise River.  Feeling a bit silly at first, searching through the leaf covered ground as if we were looking for something lost, the anticipation of finding the first morel was palpable. These camouflaging little fungi average 2-4 inches (although some grow much larger!) and have a light to dark brown honeycomb-like cap that sits atop a smooth off-white stem with a distinguishable hollow stem. Startling every time we thought we spotted one, there were many false alarms as we came across several mystery mushrooms and a slimy snail, but no morels. As our eyes began feeling the effects of our extensive staring, we decided it was a good time to give them a rest and take our adventure up north. We stopped at Volcanic Farms along our cruise up the picturesque Highway 55 to snag a piece of my favorite pie before continuing up to a hiking trail near Garden Valley. It was a gorgeous spring day on this peaceful path, with wildflowers and greenery sprouting among the various species of fungi. We meandered along, keeping our eyes peeled while fighting against the eye fatigue, determined to find that first morel. Eventually, we accepted that a morel might not be in the cards that day, but we still enjoyed the bounties of nature, smelling fresh pine in the breeze among the tall spruce trees. And that perfectly sweet fruit pie dissipated our sorrows as we began the scenic trip home, making a final pit stop along the Payette River to soak in more beautiful views.

Remembering that patience is key, I continued searching on a woodsy walk the next day with my pups, keeping a careful eye to avoid squashing the elusive treat that might lay beneath their feet. And then it happened. I squatted lower and forced my eyes to focus on the ground a bit longer to ensure my eyes hadn’t played tricks on me. There, between the leaves and branches and twine, I spotted one. And then another. And then another! There were nearly a dozen! I was so excited that I nearly poked my eye out on a thorny branch while reaching for that first morel! Knowing that it was best to snap them off rather than remove the root and to leave the smaller ones behind, I selected the “ripest” few with a proud smile. Feeling giddy, I shared the news with my brother, inviting him over for a mushroom feast.  We cooked them just as our father had done many years before, dropping them into sizzling butter and watching them crisp up before letting the earthy, nutty, buttery flavors melt in our mouths. 

After reaping the benefits of last year’s foraging, I’m excited for the hunt to continue this spring, knowing that I’ll enjoy the journey almost as much as eating them! Even when you don’t find what you’re looking for, it’s incredible what you notice when you spend a whole day looking around you! Should you decide to head out on your own morel adventure and collect a bounty, or perhaps decide to try some from the local farmer’s market, you can try this easy delicious childhood recipe below or ask fellow hunters for their favorite way to dish up these fantastic fungi. Happy Hunting!

Pan Fried Morel Mushrooms

Ingredients:

Morel Mushrooms* 

4-6 tbsp butter (this is approximate)

1 cup flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

1. Clean mushrooms by soaking in hot water for several minutes with a dash of salt, or in warm water for 1-2 hours. 

2. Cut in half lengthwise. (You may want to soak them a second time after cutting them in half, lengthwise to ensure they are clean of bugs, debris, etc.) Pat dry with paper towels.

3. Heat a pan at medium-high heat and melt 4-6 tbsp of butter in the pan. 

4. Mix flour, salt and pepper together in a bowl or Ziploc bag.

4. Dredge the mushrooms in the flour or shake them gently in the bag. 

5. Shake off any excess flour and add mushroom halves to pan. 

6. Sautee 4-5 minutes on each side, ensuring they are fully cooked through.

7. Rest on a paper towel to remove excess oil. Enjoy!

*Please make sure to research morel mushrooms before foraging and cooking. Never eat any mushroom you are 100% certain it’s safe to consume. Cleaning and properly cooking them is vital. If not eating them right away,  keep them in a brown paper bag in a cool dry place.  Clean immediately before eating and never eat them raw!


 

PAGE 2 QUOTE
"These camouflaging little fungi average 2-4 inches (although some grow much larger!) and have a light to dark brown honeycomb-like cap that sits atop a smooth off-white stem with a distinguishable hollow stem."

PAGE 3 QUOTE
"I squatted lower and forced my eyes to focus on the ground a bit longer to ensure my eyes hadn’t played tricks on me. There, between the leaves and branches and twine, I spotted one. And then another. And then another! There were nearly a dozen!"

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