Molly Mooching!

Morels

Freshly picked morel mushrooms.

My roommate Mindy and I picked our way through the woods, carefully stepping over fallen tree limbs and budding brambles. The morning was warm and the sound of bird call echoed through the trees. Mindy knew these parts of the woods well, pointing out a slight rise as she explained to me what I was looking for. You see, Mindy has been roaming these woods since she was knee-high to a grasshopper and she was about to share with me one of her family treasures: the coveted morel patch.

The previous evening we had a warm Spring rain and this particular morning was clear and bright. Perfect conditions for the tasty morsels to make their appearance. Mindy explained to me that they were a rare find because they require such specific conditions including old growth hardwood forests; the deer enjoy dining on them, often before we can find them; plus, they are only harvestable for about three days.

Mindy showed me areas around the rotted wood and spongy lichen where they are usually known to grow. Dried brown leaves from last Autumn still littered the forest floor, so we gently pushed the leaves aside as we walked hunched over like a couple of elderly nuns.

Suddenly, Mindy let out an excited squeak as she reached down between some flowering wake-robin and pinched off a small, wrinkled, knobbily gnome shaped fungus. “Got one”, she said as she held it out for my perusal.

Within a few minutes, she had discovered four or five more of the mushrooms in the vicinity. I had yet to find one myself.

Molly mooching, as morels are often called in the Appalachians and West Virginia are actually Morchella esculenta. They are a highly prized delicacy by both professional chefs and home cooks. Currently, you can purchase 16 ounces of these dried mushrooms for $305.40. From Walmart.

I had read earlier that mushroom ethics mandate a mesh bag for gathering the gems, so the spores can scatter to the ground as you carry home your harvest. This time, we were not quite as technical as we carried our small bounty back to Mindy’s mom’s house in a grocery bag. Mindy’s mom, Joy, submerged them in a bowl filled with water and placed a plate on top of them so they would stay submerged for a period of several hours. This was to purge them of dirt and crawly things.

When it was time to cook the mushrooms, Joy placed a couple of eggs lightly beaten in a shallow bowl and whole wheat flour in another bowl. She melted half a pound of butter in a large skillet on medium low heat. The morels were sliced in half and Joy first dipped them in the eggs then dredged them in the flour before placing them in the skillet to fry. She seasoned them with a little salt and cracked black pepper and allowed them to cook just until golden on one side before turning them over. She then cooked them a few minutes more on the other side, until lightly browned, and then scooped them onto paper towel to drain.

Fried morels

Fresh batch of butter fried morels. YUM!

There is nothing I can compare these tasty butter fried mushrooms to in flavor. They are uniquely mild and earthy with a savory umami deliciousness. Crispy and crunchy, they are a delightful treat.

Our harvest this time provided Mindy, Joy, my daughter Kayla, and I a taste of an elusive prized delicacy. After we were done licking our fingers and exclaiming our pleasure to one another, Mindy informed us she would be going back out again tomorrow morning.

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Nessie’s pond located in the middle of the woods where we picked the morels.

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