There is a holiday that exists in both the rural south as well as the Midwest that is only recognized by locals :Mushroom Season. Although there are a plethora of wild mushrooms that grow throughout the year, there is only one mushroom that makes it a necessity for hard working folks to ask for two weeks off work in attempt to find: the Elusive Morel. Once you taste one, you will understand why they have such a cult like following...especially since this mushroom is not psychedelic in any way...just an extraordinary edible. In a nutshell, the Morel can even be enjoyed by those who do not typically like mushrooms because their flavor and texture is so different than most. The flavor has been described as a meaty textured treat that tastes like a delicate chicken fried steak with the essence of autumn leaves( a hint of truffle and maple).
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Step 1: How to Track Them
Morel season only comes once a year in almost all states (with the exception of the far North West of the United States where locals are lucky enough to be able to pick them year round). As a general rule of thumb, they can be found after spring has fully arrived(the leaves on the trees are in full bloom, the apple and dogwood blossoms are falling from the trees, and the Mayapples are already covering the forest floor.
There are generally three categories in which foragers classify morels. The Blacks (the first to pop up during mushroom season), The Greys (which pop up soon after the Blacks), and The Golden Morels (the largest and the last to appear).
As a general rule of thumb, Morels are found in deciduous woods (you generally wont find them growing anywhere near cedars, pines, or hemlock trees). They love to grow in old apple orchards, near undisturbed river and stream beds, and around walnut trees and ash trees. Greys and Blacks or "Fire Morels" also tend to favor growing in areas that have experienced a forest fire the year before. As every seasoned Morel hunter can tell you, though, they are called "The Elusive Morel" for a reason....sometimes they simply decide to pop up in an open field or in the backyard (though this is rare) for no reason at all...some have even been found in the fall (the rarest of all).
Although they are almost unmistakable when it comes to identification (if a garden gnome had a cone-shaped brain, it would look exactly like a Morel), there exists one similar mushroom called the "False Morel" (which you DON'T want to eat). False Morels grow at the same time as the Morels, but with the proper knowledge its easy to know the difference between the two. Unlike the edible Morel, the False Morel tends to favor growing around evergreens, is shaped like a brain (not a cone), and is rusty red in color.
Step 2: Cooking Morels
Although there are about a thousand and one recipes for Morels (including Morel Bisque, Morel Sauce, Morel infused pasta...etc. Any recipe that includes Morels is beyond compare), the best way to prepare them is simple. The first step once you have collected a few is to cut them in half lengthwise and soak them in a cold bowl of salt water for 20 minutes (creepy crawlies love Morels as much as humans and this ensures that you won't be eating THEM as well).
After they have been soaked, pat the Morels dry and roll them in flour (you may add a dash of salt and pepper to the flour if you like).
Heat your skillet over medium and add about 3 tbsp. of butter. Once the butter is sizzling, add your Morels and cook until they are just golden and crispy on each side.
Lightly salt them after you remove from the pan and enjoy!
***save the butter they cooked in...this will make for an amazing addition to any recipe that calls for butter...nothing beats Morel-infused butter ;)
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