For those of you mushroom fanatics in the know, and those who desperately wish you were in the know, finding your first morel is about as memorable as your first kiss. Mushroom hunters spend months and years wandering around in dead fall and through mushy forests in search of these precious gems of the spring, and once found, guard the secret of the location like treasure. Many’s the time I have engaged mycological foragers in conversation trying to ferret out information about when, where and how they found these fungal delicacies, and never did I get a hint of a reliable clue. Sure, anyone will give you generalities that you might find in any book on the subject, like look at the edge of the woods near old orchards, or where there are lime deposits, or near dying ash or elm, but disclose their secret spot to an outsider? Never.
A few weeks ago my husband came back from hunting turkey with a giant brownish fungi that he imagined I’d find interesting. It was about 5 inches tall, hollow, and had spongy pits all over its “cap”. Although his hunt was unsuccessful, I was much more delighted with his efforts than if he had brought home a fat tom. Little did he expect my shrieks of delight and demands that he take me immediately back to the exact location where he had found it. We agreed to go back and I spent the next half hour poring over my books and through mycology websites to ensure that what he had found was indeed a true morel. I’m sure I’m not the only newby mushroom forager to worry about poisoning my loved ones! In fact it was a real morel, albeit an old one, and off we went to see if there were more.
After a short hike through some soggy march and then woodland brambles, we found an old tree with a half dozen large morels under it. Mushroomers say that in order to know mushrooms you must know trees, so I suppose I’m not much of a mushroomer. It’s no wonder I haven’t found any myself. I can’t identify an ash from an elm, so I have no idea what type of tree they were growing under or why. They were easy to find as they stood 5 to 7 inches tall, and were about 2.5 inches wide. Morels are best when young. As they mature they tend to get drier and more brittle, less tender and moist. We decided to give them a try anyway. After picking off a few slugs and a good long soak to drown any other bugs inside, I cut them into chunks for a soup.
I decided on a soup for two reasons; they were old, and my sons hate soup. It’s not that I didn’t want to share, it’s just that they might be less likely to try mushroom soup than something like mushrooms in pastry crust, and therefore I had less of a chance of poisoning them if I had somehow made a mistake in my identifications. Did I mention I was nervous to eat them? I sauteed them in some butter and took a nibble. The flavor was surprisingly good for slightly out of date mushrooms. Earthy and pungent and very…mushroomy. I waited a half an hour and didn’t develop stomach cramps so I decided to go ahead. The recipe that follows is a delicious and decadent way to eat a morel.
CREAM OF MOREL SOUP
4 to 5 cups sliced mushrooms
3 tbs butter
3 tbs flour
2 cups broth
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 tbs dry sherry
1 tsp fresh chopped thyme
Cut the mushrooms into small pieces and saute over medium heat in the butter until soft and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir. Add the broth and stir until smooth. Cook until the broth starts to thicken, about 5 to 10 minutes minutes. Using a handheld puree tool or a blender, mix until smooth. (if you like you can leave some chunks for texture) Add the half and half and the sherry, making sure to keep the heat to a low simmer. Serve topped with the chopped thyme and enjoy!