Story by Jim Long
There are some specific things I look forward to each year. Baked turkey at Christmas; lilacs in bloom in April; the first tomato, the first sweet corn, the first dogwood to bloom, and….morel mushrooms. They are without a doubt, a world class delicacy, up there with truffles, the best Italian cheese, a fine wine and birthday cake when you’re 4 years old.
If you have grown up with morels, you know never to ask someone where they found theirs. You know, too, that when someone asks you to hunt with you, or for you to show them where to hunt, as lots of readers did some years back when Gourmet magazine came to the farm to write an article about one of my meals, which included morels, then you know that person doesn’t have a clue. One never shares their morel hunting grounds, not until just before they’re ready for that last great morel hunt in the sky. Those secret morel hunting places are guarded and passed down from generation to generation. “Where’d ya find your morels?” is a phrase only spoken by an outlander, an outsider, someone who just doesn’t have understand the secrecy and mystery involved in morel hunting.
Josh spent early Easter morning out in the pouring rain, in the woods, hunting over one of his favorite morel grounds and came back home with a big ole bag full of morels including some fairly large ones. And, knowing full well, I will be battling gout by tomorrow as penance for my eating, I fixed a batch and indulged myself for tonight’s supper. Two things will give me gout with near absolute certainty: a plateful of morel mushrooms, or biscuits and gravy (gout is from the build up of uric acid and relates to kidney function). So I have my prednisone at hand for the middle of the night when my foot will likely feel an elephant stomped on it, but for this evening, I et a mess o’ morels and enjoyed every last crumb.
My recipe for cooking morels is my own concoction and it works for freezing morels as well as cooking them. People who’ve tasted it, including those fine folks from Gourmet magazine, say it’s the best tasting morels they’ve eaten. I don’t fry many things, but morels are best fried to a golden brown, crispy state and eaten immediately.
First split the mushrooms in half and soak in salt water if you need to, to chase out any ants. Drain. Get a little bowl of buttermilk ready. And put a sleeve of saltine crackers in the food processor and process to fine crumbs, then pour those into a zipper baggie. Drop the morels into the buttermilk, then drop into the baggie of cracker crumbs and shake to completely coat the mushrooms. Lay them out on a cutting board. (At this point you could lay them on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for overnight, then bag up in zip bags. They’re just like fresh for about 3 months in the freezer and can be taken out and immediately fried).
Heat a pan of cooking oil to hot (peanut or canola oil works best for this; olive oil doesn’t do well heated that hot. The oil needs to be hot, not smoking, just good and hot, about 360 degrees. Hot enough that when you drop the mushrooms in, they sizzle and simmer, not losing the breading, but not cooking so fast they burn, either. Drop the mushrooms in, 3 or 4 at a time. It should take about 2 minutes to cook the mushrooms, turning once. Drain and keep hot and cook up the rest. Sometimes I dust the mushrooms with crumbled dried dillweed, but usually, just a tiny salting is all they get. They’re crispy on the outside, so tender and sweet on the inside and there just aren’t many foods as good. Nothing whatsoever, in the springtime, looks like a morel mushroom, either. Or tastes as good.
Enjoy! Jim Long
About the author
Jim has been a columnist for The Herb Companion magazine for the past 19 years and has regular columns in The Heirloom Gardener and The Ozarks Mountaineer magazines. Jim’s syndicated Ozarks Gardening column runs in newspapers across the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks and he is the author of 25 books on herbs, gardening and cooking. Jim travels and lectures for groups and national conferences throughout the year and travels abroad in search of new culinary plants to grow, photograph and write about. Visit his website Long Creek Herb’s