This past week, our neighbor came over, panting and out of breath from a recent run, and stuck his head over the back fence. “You have to come see this!” he exclaimed, wide-eyed. “We have hit the morel jackpot!”
He lead me, carefully stepping through the grass under our apple tree, to a patch of beautiful morel mushrooms growing all over the place across our property line. They were quite fairly and equally distributed between our two yards, as though they knew we would want to share. We examined, researched, painstakingly searched for pictures of poisonous lookalikes online, and reassured ourselves with the obvious: they were growing under an apple tree, a favorite place of morels, they were completely hollow all the way down through the stem, they appeared in the springtime, which is when morels appear, and they looked identical to the photos we poured over.
Now… did we eat them? Would you eat them? Heck yes! I was encouraged when I happened to notice dried morels in the grocery store that was running $20 for a small bag. I hated the thought of these beautiful, prized wild mushrooms going to waste, and when I researched them further, I could not ignore how lucky we were; thousands of people forage the fields and forests of North America in search of morels, the king of mushrooms, every spring, and here they are right outside our front door. The sad news is that the reason they are there, under our prized apple tree, is likely because our tree is dying. Morels are often found in old apple orchards for a reason — they tend to feed off of the root system breaking down, as it provides readily available nutrients for the morels. The good news? The morels are more likely to come back to the same spot if the conditions are right.
I looked for many recipes and found my mouth watering looking at these, so I decided to keep it simple and allow the morels to be the stars of the show. The smell of the raw mushrooms was amazing — a smoky and sweet fragrance that was unlike any other mushroom I’ve had. I made the mistake of washing the first couple of morels before realizing that they were impossible to dry off; the water became trapped inside the folds of the morel caps. Soaking morels is not necessary, even though many say they soak them in salt water to get rid of any bugs. I wanted these morels to brown, and was aware that the more water they retained, the less likely they would be to brown in the pan. I brushed the rest off with a pastry brush (they really weren’t that dirty once I cut the bottoms off) and checked for worms or bugs (if you see silky threads on the caps, that is a sign of worms, so look closely). They were surprisingly clean.
Once I cleaned them, I quartered them and set them aside. I melted 1 Tbsp (maybe a bit more?) of salted butter in a cast iron skillet and tossed those beauties in!
The butter soaked into the folds of the mushroom caps as they cooked and the smell was amazing!
Another plant we lucked out on? Our sage, which was the first to come back this year. I am no stranger to the delicacies of sage leaves in browned butter (think roasted green beans, ravioli, etc.) so I grabbed a few to add to the morels.
Here is what the morels looked like after a few minutes of cooking on medium-high heat. I kept an eye on them and stirred them occasionally until they were nicely browned. The sage turned out crispy, a savory delicate crunch alongside the mushrooms.
Andrew and I smothered them on top of a ribeye steak we split in half alongside a big green salad. It was such a delicious treat and we savored every bite. Thank you, magic morel spores, for finding our little yard this spring!