Let Morels Inspire You!

Fear of food often revolves around the unknown, should you try it, or step away in disgust?  Foraging for mushrooms is another fear entirely.  Lack of desire to try lutefisk, is very different from not wanting to eat something that can make me sick, give unwanted hallucinations, or worse.  So I hear the ghost of Julia Child telling everyone to be fearless, but mushrooming requires enough hesitation for some to at least require a guide.    Many are willing to do it, but unlike most foodie adventures, not going to do it out of a book.  They just need to find someone with enough experience to not make them skeptical.

Around the Tahoe region, luckily, guides are not too hard to find.  Being near hippy and morel country has its advantages.  Part of the thing with morels is they tend to show up in the spring after a fire in the summer or fall.  So last years fire which filled the Tahoe Basin with smoke, and burned a fair amount of acreage, is a good place to look.  The fire area is amazingly close to Tahoe as the eagle flies, which is to say it takes a long time to get to by road.

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The trip to the search area is a mix of gold, fish, and mushrooms.  Entertaining on all fronts, it is rural, and takes you through California gold country, over the American river filled with prospectors and trout fisherman, and for us, a stop by a half filled reservoir at the base of a large burnt out hill.  From there it is all about climbing up the hill,  and a willingness to go farther than the last person.  Quickly it becomes a fantastic easter egg hunt for gown ups.

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To prepare for the trip, I quickly looked over some background info on mushrooms.  The topic quickly becomes deep and confusing, with scientific jargon only a masochist can enjoy, and descriptions which require a new vocabulary to understand.  Looking for the morels simplified the process.  You are not going out and trying to identify different mushrooms, which is a difficult task for the uninitiated.  Instead you are only looking just for morels, with their very distinct pattern, they are easy to find once you train your eyes.  Better yet, the one mushroom you can confuse them with is easy to identify.  Morels have a hollow stem.  Their fake does not.  Simple.  Easy to not mess up.  Once you do start to find them amongst the the forrest floor, they start popping up everywhere.  The hunt is on.

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Morels have a dusky smell and a rich mushroom flavor packed with umami.  Try them roasted or sautéed, on pizza, steak, pasta, chicken, salad or just about anything.  The rewards for the adventure come long before the meal, with fun time to be had on the journey and the search for the rare delicacy.

Once you have your morels, handle them carefully (they are delicate), and wash them.  Then wash them again, and again, and again.  Grainy morels are a giant bummer, and it does take several baths to remove the grit.  Using salt water is a good idea, since it makes some of the little nasties leave their crevices, and if you want to speed up the process, it helps to cut the morels in half before the bath.  From there, well, you know what to do with mushrooms.