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Hunting Mushrooms with Grandpa   10 comments

Grandpa & me

Grandpa & I, 1968. Wrong vegetable, but that’s what a hunting expedition looked like (Though the ’59 Olds didn’t go to the ditches! Grandpa drove the tractor, or we walked.)

I really had no clue.

It’s just what we did.  Spring rains would come, and then Grandpa Mowry and I would go tromp through the undergrowth.  We had a small family farm that was riddled with ditches between the fields of corn, soy beans and clover.  The clover field was right by the potato patch, and the ditch that was between them is where I remember the hunting was good.

That’s also where the wild blackberry bushes were.

And thus began my love of two wild & wonderful treats: blackberries and morel mushrooms.

Blackberries are relatively common, of course, and I enjoy them year-round.  About once a decade, I can convince Velda to make a blackberry pie.  I think I’m due again in 2017.

Morel 3Mushrooms are also common, and we’ve enjoyed them in all manner of dishes.  Morel mushrooms were missing, though.  How come?

When I was walking by Grandpa’s side, it was really easy.  In the bushy undergrowth of the ditch, we would look for bumps in the leafy mulch.  Once in a while, the mushrooms were already revealed, poking their caps through the detritus of the ditch.  Most of the time, however, our search was for an unexpected mound of leaves.  We would brush the top aside, and occasionally be rewarded with a lovely pale, spongy-looking mushroom cap poking out.  We had found a Morchella esculenta, the yellow morel.

And I had no idea what we had found.  I just knew they tasted great!  On a good day we’d gather a mess of mushrooms for our family of six.  Mom, Dad, Sis and I would get to have a great dinner at Grandma & Grandpa’s house.  The mushrooms, as I recall, were always fried.  For you doubters … don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Come to find out, those morels would be the last I would have for many, many years.  Generally, you can’t buy fresh morels.  No one — NO ONE — knows how to grow them, so the only morels offered for sale are gathered in the wild, just as I did with Grandpa.

Last May, we found dried morels for sale in an old bean store. Great store, Rancho Gordo, in Napa, CA.  They had dried morels for sale:  one ounce for $16.

And so we bought what I think is the most expensive ingredient Velda’s ever used.  She found a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa for Chicken & Morels that was utterly scrumptious.  She did the Velda tweaks, of course: more wine, less fat, etc.  The whole family was there for a great dinner.  It just doesn’t get any better.

More information about morels:Morel 2

The Great Morel

Wikipedia: Morchella

Hunting in the Ozarks

More recipes:

Mushroom Appreciation

Chicken Scallopine with Morels

Kitchen Confidante

Mycological Society of San Francisco


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