Usually its the end of morel season around here but the weather patterns this year seem to have extended the season a bit. About two weeks ago my husband found a handful or so of these out behind the house and we were pretty excited. There are few things that taste better than these rich, velvety mushrooms. Its kinda a dog fight in my house the minute these show up so unless we score a bunch I have to come up with creative ways to make sure everyone gets a fair share.
Success in finding morels varies from year to year largely depending on the weather and moisture pattern but we have a few spots by both our house and our cabin up north that give us enough to enjoy. We have had a lot of success finding them near Elm and Aspen trees and large rotting tree stumps or logs. They are frequently on south facing slopes too.
Take an old onion or orange bag to put your find in. As with all mushrooms, morels have spores that will release as you handle them. By using a bag with holes, the spores that work loose while you walk will float off and have a chance at sprouting up somewhere else. Take good note of where you found them for future reference and check at least once a week throughout the season for new mushrooms. They will usually show up in the same spot the following spring as well.
The kids are actually really good at finding morels because the kids are that much closer to the ground. :) Never let kids touch the mushrooms in the woods - one because you don't want to take chances that its the wrong mushroom and two because to have mushrooms the next year you want to cut the stem and leave the root in the ground to keep producing (this is a good reason to carry a pocket knife too).
If you have never been morel hunting before, have an experienced mushroom hunter take you first - your county extension or local nature preserve can usually hook you up with a naturalist who knows how to identify them properly if you don't know someone. My husband had a good friend take him for the first couple of years until he was really sure of what he was doing. Even so, we never eat them whole - we cut them in half always to make sure they are completely hollow stem to tip. The Great Morel is a good place to start online for more info.
Our process is to take the morels and toss them in a deep bowl, fill it with cold water and sprinkle with a heavy douse of salt. We let this sit at least a couple hours but usually overnight. Morels are full of holes and are a popular housing for slugs, beetles and other small bugs. The saltwater soaking will draw out and kill any undesirable guests and will also re-hydrate areas of the mushroom that may have started to dry out if they are a little on the older side. Besides the bugs, there is also sand and dirt grit that will soak out and settle to the bottom of your bowl.
You don't really have to cut them in half but I always do. For one, it gives me another chance to verify that they are not False Morels and secondly, I am always paranoid about slugs and bugs that might still be caught in the stem. :)
On this day I decided to make cheesy venison burgers with provolone and topped with sauteed morels. Here is my recipe - enjoy!
Couple handfuls morel mushrooms
1/2 stick butter
Cut morels in half lengthwise and then cut larger pieces in half again. Melt butter in a medium saute pan. Add mushrooms and season with pepper. Let saute about 4-5 minutes or until softened and butter is reduced and darkened a bit.
2 pounds ground venison (ground beef, turkey or chicken would be fine)
1 pound ground turkey
1 packet dry onion soup mix
1 packet Kraft Fresh Take Savory Four Cheese Mix
thick sliced provolone cheese
Combine ground venison, ground turkey, egg, onion soup mix and Kraft Fresh Take mix in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Form burger patties and grill or broil until done to your preference. Top with a thick slice of provolone and melt the cheese. Place on bun and top with a generous spoonful of the sauteed morels and top with the other bun. Yum!