Morels are strange looking mushrooms. At first glance, most might doubt that they actually are mushrooms because of their dark, honeycomb structure, often described as brain-like. Okay, brain-like does not sound appetizing but trust me, they are so good. Morels have a flavour that is rich and earthy. Their texture is meaty and satisfying, and they have none of the slipperiness or sliminess that scare off those who have declared themselves non-mushroom eaters. Actually, morels have a high success rate in converting those non-mushroom eaters into mushroom lovers.
The distinct characteristics of morels are in part why they are so expensive. The majority of morel recipes call for cream, fine cuts of meat, aged cheese, and absolutely a spot of wine. They simply are and always have been considered a delicacy, second only to truffles and to Matsutaki (pine mushrooms that are specially shipped fresh to Japan). Now admittedly there are people out there who will say, “I used to pick morels with my dad out in the back wood by the bucket full,” and that is probably true and to those people I say, “how very lucky you were.”
Another reason morels command a high price is that they cannot be cultivated, meaning the conditions required to grow morels have not been successfully, repeatedly replicated, despite the efforts of biologists and mycologists (mushroom experts). So, all morels are wild; wild and not always easy to find. They grow most commonly the year after a forest fire. “Oh,” you say, “‘then just go to the forest fire to get them.” Thousands of people do do this every year. There’s a whole population of mushroom harvesters out there in the great BC forests, and only a handful of them are actually any good at it. The successful ones have to have serious bush skills, they have to be in great shape, they have to be willing to put in the time and the miles to find good spots, and they have to have a sixth sense, a sort of internal mushroom detector.
Like all non-cultivatable mushrooms, morels are seasonal. They are one of nature’s original “limited time offers,” only coming up in late spring. Weather, geography, and latitude will determine the end of the season. This year’s season got a late start, much like our gardens, and is finally trickling off in Northern BC.
Luckily, morels can be dried. Their flavour is concentrated in the drying process, much like making a raisin out of a grape. They also tend to be cleaner and much easier to handle when they are dry. If you are one of those people who has a secret hoard of treats, you can store them for at least a year and if you are planning a special dinner party in November, they are available year round.
Check out www.untamedfeast.com for entertaining videos of morel harvesting and to purchase quality, dried morels from BC.