Who doesn't love morels? To find them on a restaurant's menu is a goose, to be sure. Even better to see and smell them raw and dirty at the farmer's market. But to walk through the just-woken forest ground among fresh signs of deer and the first weeks' growth of all manner of wild green things and to suddenly hear, "I FOUND one!" is a thrill so rarefied and special that consciousness of all other things momentarily disappears. And if this exclamation just emerged from your own mouth, then you have - albeit briefly perhaps - attained what only our greatest sages and masters have known.
Jodi and I just returned from our first Ohio morel hunt in six years and now the world is righted again. Anyone who's ever hunted these beautiful, quixotic specimens knows that the mission necessarily becomes one of total obsession, the day's waking hours often ending in bed with images of mushrooms hidden under leaves playing like a slideshow on the backs of your closed eyelids.
We've done a lot of hunting and gathering in our travels, from all manner of wild berries to greens to other kinds of mushrooms, but there's something different about morels. I think it's that you can be standing right over one, looking at it for 30 seconds and still not see it. All blended in so perfectly with the rumpled dead leaves from Fall, knotted tree roots, and old hickory nut shells, they just disappear until suddenly - like those old eye puzzles that look like a senseless pattern until you relax your eyes enough that a perfect image of the statue of liberty shoots out at you - there it is!!!! It's been there this whole time. And you were there to salvage this morsel of deliciousness that could have so easily been wasted, left unnoticed to rot in a matter of days or hours.
Now, cooking these beauties may not quite measure up to the thrill of finding them but it ain't no slouch either. After doing the necessary slug, ant, and bug removal - hey, these mushrooms are wild - we got in the dugout. First up, Buttermilk Biscuits with Ramp and Morel Gravy. Yep, nothing carries mushroom flavor better than dairy, so out goes the country sausage, in come the morels, and you've got a breakfast Thomas Keller and your Kentucky grandma could share. Oh yeah, and in another act of Mother Nature's brilliance, she has adorned the Spring forest floor with a carpeting of ramps just in time for the morels to pop up. So on those cruelest of cruel days when you leave the woods skunked, a bag o' ramps is always a consolation prize.
Next up: Central Ohio's classic Fried Morel sandwich. Buttered bread, floured and butter-fried mushrooms, more buttered bread. That's it.
And finally (our trip was too short, as always): Blue Cheese, Ramp, and Morel Bread Puddings with an asparagus sauce. A new classic of ours, and already showcased in our very first blog entry.
So here's to you, my fungal friend: Thank you again for being so frustrating, so unintelligible, so glorious, and so tasty. May we meet again.