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Archive for Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Morel stories often best kept to yourself

April 4, 2001

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Every so often someone will ask me why I have never written a column about cooking with morels. The flavor of morels is distinct but subtle, and I have never been one to use them in a recipe where that flavor would be obscured.

Maybe and this is a big maybe I could go along with a plain mushroom soup or some other basic dish that used morels. But why go to the bother and compromise a delicacy? Sautour morels in butter, with a quick pass of the salt shaker, and you have the perfect side dish or topping for meat.

You can cut morels in strips lengthwise, and dehydrate and freeze them for later use. Either air-dry them or dehydrate them in a oven set at 200 degrees or even lower. When you're ready to cook them, simply reconstitute them with water and toss them in the melted butter to sautThe other reasons that I have avoided the subject of morels have nothing to do with cooking them.

The first is that most people want to know where to find them. If I answered that question, then my readers would stampede to various spots in northeast Kansas, and there would be none left for me. (I'm not even going to name counties.)

The fact is that morels grow wherever they decide to grow, usually in the woods but not always. About the one unimpeachable piece of information I can offer about morel hunting is that the season in northeast Kansas starts no earlier than the end of March and ends by early May; however, within that span the picking will be decent for about three weeks.

Usually.

Morel hunting has its own rules of etiquette. Like any other hunting activity, you must ask owners of private property for permission to enter their woods. Unless you already know the owners, they are likely to decline, for the very same reasons you would say no if it were your land.

It's also taboo to ask people who have successfully hunted morels where they found theirs. You would be on firmer ground to ask a newly engaged woman whether that diamond is real. It just isn't done.

As a result, I never thought it would be fair to leave the novice morel hunter to try to intuitively discern the location of morels, as if such information were floating around in the ether and all you had to do was wait for the light bulb to go on.

However, some stores in the Lawrence-Kansas City area now buy morels from local hunters and stock them in season. You pay a tidy price, but they're there and you don't have to tromp around in the woods looking for them.

The availability of morels in grocery stores also eliminates my other, more serious, concern, and that was taking responsibility for adequately describing morels, as opposed to sometimes-poisonous false morels.

If you've seen the two side by side it's a no-brainer (real morels have uniformly pitted heads and hollow stems), but for the neophyte there can be confusion.

I've talked enough cooks through recipes over the phone to know that even the most carefully worded instructions can be misunderstood by intelligent people.

If you are intent upon learning how to identify them on sight, buy a mushroom guide and have it in hand when you go hunting.

You can view pictures of morels and read descriptions at a Web site operated by a mycologist at Eastern Illinois University, which is located in a climate similar to ours. That's important because tips about seasons and habitat vary by region. That site can be found at www.ux1.eiu.edu/~cfmfk1/mycology/morels.htm.

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