by Brady Raymond
We started high, around 4000ft. and that is where we stumbled across the first few Morels of the day, just off the trail among the grass and leaves. They were still young and fresh. I wondered if maybe this was the last hoorah and worried that it might just be the tail end of the season, I prayed to the Mushroom Gods, that they lead me to nature’s bounty and deliver me from my fungal hunger, a hunger that has been gnawing deep inside after the long winter, with no dried reserves of the fungus left.
Do you Morel? I Moreled my butt off Saturday, well as much as I could with two young children and a geriatric dog. The rain seemed to scare off a lot of folks over the holiday weekend but many, including myself, were gallivanting around eastern Cascade forests in search of one of the most delectable treasures nature has to offer, the Morel. It is also in my opinion, the best mushroom, and one worth bragging about, even if just a little bit.
Now there are some who would argue my assessment of this, finding Porcini to be the best of the west, the springtime variant of the Cep being superior to what the fall has to offer. Yet, others will proclaim Matsutake or Lobsters to be their mushroom of choice. But I will always adore the spongy fungi known as the Morel.
Pits, pores, veins or gills, whatever your fancy, you have to make the most of it when the getting is good. Right now is the time for Morels here in Central Washington, so get out there, they won’t last long.
As the weather warmed this spring and the snow melted things seemed right on track, then it got hot and the landscape dried out. Not the best recipe for a banner Morel year. My season seemed like it was going to stall with an all-time low of only two Morels. But then it happened, the weather cooled and the rains rolled in, soaking the mountains over the last week.
There was ample moisture but I was worried the temperatures were just too low, I still had hope though. The Morels took to this second spring and erupted from the soil and a couple pounds of which I was lucky enough to find. I cradled in my hands the first Morel of the day and rejoiced in its splendor. This is Morel hunting in Washington, and I’m living right now. Are You?
Usually when we’re hunting in the spring things are dry, at least on the surface, they are downright soggy this year. It is certainly annoying to be wet, although the Morels really seemed to pop in the moisture-laden landscape. My eyes scanned the ground and with little strain and I spotted one after another and yet another.
Many were of good size and most were in great condition, a few were showing age but were still acceptable. These are usually the specimens we choose to dry, using them in recipes rehydrated throughout the winter, that is if we find enough. It is sacrilege to dry anything before you feast on them fried up for a day or two. You owe yourself that, after all the work you put into finding them. Care should be taken to cook the mushrooms thoroughly, making sure enough heat is applied and for long enough. I’m not really sure how hot or how long, I’m not much of a cook. But, I do know that if not cooked enough you will no doubt have a Morel blowout.
Joking aside, it is interesting to note how variable these mushrooms can be. There is always something uniquely Morely about them though. I can see how folks new to mushrooming could mistake a Verpa or Gyromitra but it’s not likely that anyone who is at all experienced would ever mistake them. Although, overeager hunters can sometimes be pulled into what they call the Verpa Trap, a horrible condition. One that pierces the body, straight to the brain, a kind of fever really, if you want to get technical. “More Morels” becomes your mantra, then you reach for it, half hidden under leaves and as soon as you grasp it, the whole illusion comes crashing down.
You lift the mushroom, bringing it up to your eyes for closer inspection and rising with your arm is a certain sense of shame. You knew it was still too early in the season. You knew those were convoluted folds and not wrinkly pits. But you gave in, you got a little to gitty and now you’re left a fool.
Whoa, sorry, I got sidetracked there. You can tell someone who has fallen into the Verpa Trap before, like me. It’ll still grab you just thinking about it. With time you can temper the ailment but it never really goes away.
After a couple days of rain things cleared up a bit for Monday. The woods were still damp but more reminiscent of the drier outings of years past. Rain or shine we fared well. In total we gathered just under five pounds of Morels in two days of looking. We even have some in the dehydrator as I type this sentence. How long the “reserves” will last I am uncertain. I will try my best to forage what I can over the next week, and if I’m lucky I can double what I have now. And who knows maybe I’ll luck out and find one of those Porcini things.