As snow melts off mountain peaks, and yellow balsamroot bloom in valleys below, it’s time to take to the woods where an elusive delicacy of the season awaits. Introducing the morel mushroom. Morels are among the most beloved of our wild fungi.
Where to find morels?
For your best shot at sleuthing out morels, take a vernal hike on the sunny eastern slope of the Cascades and scour subalpine forests of pine and fir. Remember to wear your mushroom goggles because morels will hide right in plain sight!
A bonanza of morels sometimes occurs in the aftermath of wildfire, for reasons little understood by science. When it happens, this flush of so-called burn morels is a sight to see, with mushrooms sometimes carpeting forest floor. Pick your way carefully through the charred woods looking for the fungi that are part of the forest’s natural regeneration.
How to cook your bounty.
The hunt is only half the fun. There’s nothing better after a day of bushwhacking than cooking up your catch. Morels have an earthy flavor that’s hard to describe. They’re smoky, meaty, and full of that fifth flavor known as umami. They’re also fleeting. When morel mushrooms are popping, connoisseurs will drop everything to spend a day in the mountain woods in search of this brief springtime treat.
For such excursions, I like to pack my camp stove plus a few simple ingredients to make a quick al fresco meal to remember. All you need is garlic, butter, and a fresh baguette. Add a bottle of wine and ricotta cheese to elevate this trailside snack into something truly special for you and your hunting companions.
1. Heat butter or olive oil in a pan over medium flame. Add minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 20 seconds, being careful not to let it burn.
2. Add chopped morels and stir to coat. Cook mushrooms several minutes, stirring occasionally, until they release their liquid and begin to brown slightly at the edges. Season with salt and pepper.
3. While morels are cooking, slice baguette and slather each slice with ricotta cheese, which helps to anchor the mushrooms.
4. Spoon morel mushrooms onto sliced baguette. Top with a pinch of salt and a scattering of herbs such as thyme or tarragon, if available, and enjoy the earthy goodness with a sip of wine. This is how to commemorate a fine spring day in the woods!
MOREL MUSHROOM MUST BE COOKED.
DO NOT CONSUME RAW!