Somewhere in the woods
The last morel stands proudly
Its function achieved
by Brady Raymond
Has the last morel of the 2016 season in Washington been picked? Maybe, but whenever that mushroom is or was plucked from the ground there will be somewhere in the woods “the last morel standing” unfound by man. It would be interesting to know who does pick that last found morel, or at least the last edible one. I would imagine that some old mealy dried out morels could be stumbled upon in the weeks to come though. I picture these fading fungi being found on the sun baked ground in one of the burns, a shell of its former glory.
Rest assured fellow mushroomers that morel mycelium is still pulsating below your feet. Growing and expanding its territory, spreading and intertwining with mycelium of our fall quarry, Chanterelles, Matsutake, Sparassis and Porcini… I begrudgingly look forward to the cool rains that bring these fall fungal finds. Begrudgingly, only because I love the summer months, the long days and clear skies.
I’ve often times thought that mushrooming could be good therapy for those that suffer from seasonal effective disorder or the winter blues. Heading into fall can be depressing, shorter days blanketed in clouds and the constant drizzle, everything is soggy, even your brain but there is a strange beauty in this part of the year in the form of forest treasures, a plethora of edibility and a diversity of species, not found in spring. Having this to look forward to may just be the distraction needed to ward off the blues of the coming winter. And just when you find your last Chanterelle, you can start looking forward to spring and once again those delectable morels, baskets full of them.
2016 Morels, a Season in Review
What a fun season this year has been. They are always fun but the past couple of years were a bit of a desperate search, at least for Erin and I. We would find just enough to have a meal or two, trying to eat them before any friends inquired how we did that particular weekend. But this year was different, with large winter snow packs and decent spring rains, morels popped in plentitude and these were just the natural morels, we did not make it to a burn this year but those that did faired very well.
Although folks we talked to found morels in the 2200ft. range it seemed like those who did hit the riparian cottonwood groves at just the right time. Our searching revealed little in the way mushrooms at all in this elevation range. We hit up some spots throughout the season between 2200-2700ft. and it was mostly a fungi wasteland from our prospective of a hungry morel starved couple. So we headed up as reported in 4000ft. Morels.
Finding them means you get to eat them and let me tell you, there were some good eats this spring. Here’s a few that didn’t make it to any recipe posts this year. Maybe there will be a write up this summer for some of these, I’ll have to prod the chefs who created these wonderful dishes.
Part of the fun of mushrooming is the community and friendships that are forged. I suppose you could find morels, cook them and eat them on your own, but it is so much more enjoyable in the company of friends. Looking for them, each forager has their own perspective and tips, as ridiculous as they may be. Cooking them, each person brings different ideas and combinations to the table in the preparation and presentation. Eating them, we all just shovel it in like dogs, snarling as a hand passes by to grab seconds on the pasta. Plates are always licked clean when eating a meal so delicious and our humanity returns only as the food coma sets in. It must be the protein that elicits this behavior, our breakdown in civility. Thank goodness it is a passing thing and morels are seasonal, for if they were to cultivate these things, all of society might collapse.
At the Memorial Day weekend field trip this year Erin got a chance to get some dyeing in. Look for some articles in the coming weeks and months on more about this process. What a great field trip it was too. The natural morels seemed like they were on their last legs for the season and once again those who made the trip to the burns faired well. Ironically one fellow mushroomer claimed his haul were found at 2300ft. and they were naturals at that. I think he may have been trying to throw folks off his hot trail though, but who knows maybe there are multiple flushes of morels if conditions are right, or maybe just some late comers.
Its easy to get stuck in the morel rut, forgetting that the spring offers other edible fungi and a few that are capable of producing pigment to visually flavor yarns (animal fiber) and silk. The Ramaria photographed below is one of the spring finds capable of doing this and you could easily harvest more than you could use. There are also some Cortinarius (Dermocybe?) to be found in the spring. Unfortunately I did not photograph the ones we found this spring, but they are out there and they will produce color for you.
Now some of you may be wondering, “did he forget about spring boletes, the regal Porcini?” No, I haven’t forgot but admittedly I have yet to find one this year. These delicious delicacies are found in many of the same places you would find natural morels but for whatever reason I do not seem to stumble onto them the way some other folks seem to. This may be that they fruit a bit later than the morels and consequently I am up higher looking for those when the Porcini are fruiting at lower elevations. Stories have been told of finding a booty of these by slowly driving forest service roads with a keen eye, only exiting the car to collect. Below are a couple of photos from last year, found by some PSMS Porcini Legends, who will remain unnamed for obvious reasons.
Stay tuned for pt.2 where we will explore burn morels.