Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Spring Time Morsels, I mean Morels
May is morel madness month
This is the season when animals, crazed with mating fever, blunder onto highways, oblivious of oncoming traffic. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is also morel mushroom season, when otherwise rational individuals abandon their families or call in sick from work to pursue an illusive fungus that is a second cousin to athlete's foot. Some say morels are good to eat. Walnuts are also good to eat. But, in Missouri, most walnuts that are not run over by lawn mowers or raked into trashcans are left for the squirrels.The morel, like Beluga caviar, is considered an expensive delicacy for those with the refined taste to appreciate it. There might be annual Beluga festivals if the stuff could be harvested in your own back yard, without having to personally remove it from a large toothy fish. But it's not as if hunting mushrooms is not dangerous. The chance that you might get sick or die from eating the wrong kind of mushroom is part of the attraction. Lots of people have died from eating mushrooms, including the Roman emperor Claudius, who should have known better than to eat his wife's cooking in the first place. Mushrooms are like spiders. They evoke images of death and decay. They thrive in dark secretive rotting places that make the average person shudder.
Maybe more people would eat spiders, if they weren't so common. Morels sell for about $20 a pound. If you leave them sitting on the kitchen counter for two days, they melt into a festering ooze you couldn't pay somebody $20 to scoop into the trash. The perishable nature of morels contributes to their reputation as a dainty treat for sophisticated palettes. The state of Michigan is mad about mushrooms, holding an annual National Mushroom Festival every May. In 1984, 17,000 people attended the festival and over a half million participated in the mushroom hunt that month. Paris has hundreds of miles of mushroom beds in caves beneath the city. Chester County, Pennsylvania produces half the US production of mushrooms. There, pickers wear miner's hats with lamps to harvest the precious crop.
A true mushroomer has a little larceny in his heart. He wants something rare and expensive - and he wants it for free. The best place to hunt morels is on someone else's property. If you're not trespassing, you don't get the genuine morel experience.
It takes a special kind of person to hunt morels. If you're wondering if you have what it takes, the following test might help you decide: You have been hunting unsuccessfully for morels for hours when suddenly, you trip over a wet log and break your leg and, simultaneously, discover a huge patch of yellow morels. When you hear a distant hiker walking by, you... (a) call for help (b) pick all the mushrooms in sight before calling for help or (c) pick all the mushrooms in sight. Then, drag yourself back to your car and set your broken leg yourself because the doctor might horn in on your morels while you're in traction.
If you did not answer (c), chances are, you probably also think $20 a pound is a lot to pay for mushrooms.