Saturday, May 16, 2009
'Tis the season....
by Mike Pardus
All winter, I watch the weather for skiing, by the end of March most of the snow is gone and it's time to think about my favorite spring sport- Mushroom Hunting! I start to watch ground moisture and temperature, air temperature, and precipitation. When it's moist and the ground temp climbs above 55F degrees it's time to start looking for Morels. This spring has been good in the Hudson Valley and more than morels have been popping up in abundance. My first find happened as I got out of my car at work - in the grass at the edge of the parking lot were three large Meadow Mushrooms (portablello relatives). Sauteed with olive oil and garlic they topped off linguine well for that evening's dinner.
A few days later, cycling through the woods outside of New Paltz , I found a few shelves ( they grow on trees in layers, like shelves) of polyporus squamos growing on trail side trees- appropriately, they are also known as "bicycle seats" because of their shape and size. Although they become too tough to eat when large and mature, these were young, tender and buttery. Again, sauteed with oil and shallots, they made a fine addition to a warm salad tossed with bacon lardons and topped with a poached egg.
But it's Morel Season and, although I'd been hearing tales of successful forages by some of my students, I'd yet to find any of my own. On Tuesday I made a date with my GF to ditch out of work as early as possible and go wandering through the woods near the banks of the Hudson river - my perennial favorite and most fruitful source of morels each spring, this year did not disappoint.
It was a beautiful, warm and sunny afternoon and the forest was clean and relatively free of underbrush. We walked and chatted, keeping our eyes on the ground, but also watching the tree tops for dead elms (morels are reputed to favor growing under dead or dying elm trees). Just when it looked like we might have to be satisfied with a simple walk in the woods we went to check out an elm and found not morels, but several shelves of fresh, young, oyster mushrooms. Favored by beetles and slugs as well as humans, it's important to catch these soon after they emerge, we felt lucky to have beaten the bugs.
But it was morels we'd come for and after another hour of wandering we decided to give up the quest and be thankful for the half full sack of oysters. On the way back to the car, ambling up a hill, I glanced to my left and was astonished to see a doublet of morels - each the size of a pint beer bottle! Since morels most often grow "gregariously", where there's one there are usually many more, we forgot about the car and started scrutinizing the forest floor. Within 30 minutes we discovered three productive colonies, harvesting a total of 78 gems ranging in size from huge to tiny; our sack full and we fulfilled.
Returning home, we took turns prepping dinner and showering off the ticks. Soon we had dinner on the table - Roasted chicken and asparagus, large, crunchy croutons tossed in the rendered chicken fat, and sauteed mushrooms. With a bottle of cava, it was a rare and delicious meal.
So, now for the disclaimers:
Never - NEVER - eat wild mushrooms without first studying with a professional and having your harvest inspected for safety.
Join your local mycological society and go on organized forages to learn the basics (almost every county has one - google to find one near you)
Buy and use a good Mushroom field guide. My favorite is Mushrooms of North America by Roger Philips.
Never eat or serve anything you aren't absolutely sure of.
Remember the old adage:
" There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no OLD, BOLD mushroom hunters"
Don't be bold - or foolish - mushrooms are fun to hunt and wonderful to eat, but acute liver failure is a slow and painful way to die. You want to be an OLD mushroom hunter.