Saturday, June 19, 2010

Morel Madness

Sometimes Marty thinks I dreamed up this whole Fat of the Land thing so I'd have an excuse to spend more time outdoors. I'm not going to argue with that theory. Seems like I've been logging more nights in the woods lately than at home. As a result, here at FOTL headquarters we're way behind on bringing you the latest adventures in the field and in the kitchen.

The cool, wet spring has produced an epic morel mushroom year in the Pacific Northwest—and I've been only too happy to harvest my share. Flush after flush of naturals keeps flooding the mountains, with multiple flushes sometimes at the same elevation. I'm finding so many naturals that I'm not even bothering to work the burns. The dryer is running overtime. In fact, I had to upgrade my homemade system to a store-bought Nesco dehydrator to handle the volume. Good times.

Over the Memorial Day weekend we went looking for sun, camping on the far eastern flank of the Cascades in what is high desert badlands. It was one of those classic Northwest beer commercials as we assembled for this group shot in down jackets and other winter gear. Even in desert canyons you can find an oasis of wild foods. We came upon on a large patch of miner's lettuce that provided our salad greens for the weekend, and closer to the pass we went on a family hike and found morels in abundance on the elk trails.

Our friends Tip and Bridget whumped up a killer morel pasta dinner. I don't have the exact details but it went something like this: chopped red onion and morels sauteed in butter, deglazed with red wine, finished with fresh sage and heavy cream and tossed with parmesan and fettucini.

The following weekend proved just as bountiful as we moved up in elevation to find the freshest morels. At one point I stumbled on a blowdown and figured there had to be a morel or two. Sure enough, one after another pointed me up the slope until I realized an area smaller than a football field was loaded with more than a hundred of the sneaky fellers.

There's always a catch. The weather has been a boon to morels but our spring king season is looking like a bust. The boletes need warmth to pop. This year they're a couple weeks late and I'm afraid the main flush will happen all at once and then the season will quickly wind down with a crop of wormed-out porcini. Luckily I managed to harvest a bunch at the very beginning. More on that in my next post.


Lara said...

Oh my gosh. That creamy pasta dinner of morels, with a side of foraged salad, on those blue tin camping plates, makes my heart yearn for the outdoors. Why is it that food tastes so much better when you are eating from a tin plate, balanced on your knees, as you sit on damp logs around a campfire? I really need to pull out the camping gear, soon.

Anonymous said...

Greetings from the Forgotten corner of WA. Found quite a number of King Boletes at the Priest Lake Foray the weekend before Memorial Day. Got them before they were too buggy. Enjoy your blog and your book. JoAnn

Jack said...

We picked up about 20 pounds of spring kings at 2,200 feet of elevation last Friday (It was the fourth Friday in a row to get grocery bags full of kings at this same spot). So they are definitely out there this year.

As for morels, we came across lots of black morels between 4,100 and 4,300 feet on Friday. Ended up with about 100 between the 3 of us in just 90 minutes of picking at the end of the day.

Unfortunately, I finally realized that the black morels are the direct cause of middle-of-the-night wake-me-up stomach aches that have afflicted me lately. So no more of them sauted up in cream sauce and covering pasta for me! Bummer!

Thanks for an excellent blog!

Langdon Cook said...

Lara - Bust that camping gear out and hit the trail. Food always tastes better in the woods, especially after a day of bushwhacking around the hills in search of wild edibles.

JoAnn - I keep meaning to get out to Priest Lake. It's a haul from Seattle, which is probably why it's such a good spot to pitch a tent and forage.

Jack - Good to hear your spots are producing--and sorry about your morel affliction. The spring porcini are out there, as you report, but definitely not in their usual abundance, and some known locales are either late or not putting out anywhere near the average annual harvest. I know this first-hand from checking several of my own spots but also from commercial foragers. Thankfully I've dried as much as I'll need for the rest of the year with enough bug-free buttons left over to make several porcini dinners, of which I'll post about soon.

Anonymous said...

I'll take any guidance I can get for the spring kings. I can finally target morels (and I know it's been an epic year), but it seems the only spring kings I find are completely by chance. I'm looking in grand fir on the east side, but have only found a handful each of the past times I've gone out. Sounds like I may have been a bit early/high in elevation for the locations I've been looking.