Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mmmmm....Morels

We had a wonderful surprise visit from Roger's daughter Indigo and her beautiful daughter Luna last week. They drove down river to the coast and knocked on our door. How could I have not taken a photo of them while they were here having dinner with us? I don't know. You'll have to take our word for it, they are both adorable in every way, and Luna is especially charming as she is learning to walk, and pulling every electric cord, plant, or object within reach.

What I did get a photo of was this. Indigo's partner had collected these morels in the forests around the Klamath River. She brought a bunch of them with her, and we had them in our risotto that evening. I haven't thought of morels in years. It reminded me of the first time I ever saw them.

Close to 45 years ago, my cousin--along with her husband and two other couples-- bought 108 acres of land in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. They were all living and working in New Jersey, but they had been inspired by the "back to land" movement of that late 60s and early 70s, and headed out to find good ol' Mother Earth. I had gone back to New Jersey from California to visit with them, and we all piled into a van and drove to Virginia to look at their land. We stayed with a family who were multi-generational Virginians. They had lived in these mountains for a very long time.

I remember Wilbur, the dad who used to "wrassle bears at county fairs" coming in and showing us these strange mushrooms that he had picked and called them"merkels." He said they were definitely edible and incredibly delicious. I took one look at them and thought to myself, "No way I'm eating those crazy looking things." The only mushrooms I had ever eaten were in Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, and there was no way those tiny bits of mushrooms in that soup was in any way related to these weird looking creatures. So I absolutely did not even take a bite. But I also never forgot them. And years later I started reading about mushrooms and the fabulous, sought-after morels. When I saw photos, I thought, "Hey wait a second, I know those as merkels." But morels they were, and true enough, they are delicate and delicious mushrooms.

So when Indigo brought us these yummy offerings from the forests of northern California, we rejoiced and had a feast. And, I was really glad to have these old memories from long ago stirred by mushroom.

20 comments:

  1. Yummy, how did you cook them?

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  2. Ooh, lucky you. I can see why you passed on them at first however. They kind of resemble dog droppings but my are they delicious.
    Luna is walking?? Mercy--seems she just came into this world. Time is flying.

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  3. Leah loves mushrooms, but I don't care much for them. Of course they aren't morels.

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  4. Sabine-- Indigo brought enough morels for us to have them in risotto for dinner. Then, in the morning for breakfast with potatoes and eggs, and finally another dinner of pasta and veggies. Yum.

    Arkansas Patti-- Seriously, they do look like dog poop. I'm glad I learned how to get past that and take a taste all these years later. Yes, Luna is attempting to take steps. So cute and time does fly!

    MarkP-- My family didn't cook with mushrooms when I was growing up. We had a lot of veggies, but not mushrooms. I can't remember when I introduced them into my diet. Now, I think we have crimini mushrooms in almost every dinner. My favorite!

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  5. Brought back some delightful memories of the long gone days in Ann Arbor, when the morels would appear every year on the edges of our pine forest. I would make origami boxes out of washi, in which a small sprig of pine held a few morels. They were given a Spring gifts to foody friends. I cook them rather simply. But, first wash them thoroughly for the often contain rolly-bugs. Sate them in unsalted butter and Vermouth----delicious! Also, the are delicious mixed with spring asparagus and eggs.

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  6. Your mushrooms story reminds me of one, too. One day, after my mother died and my father and sister (who were living together before my sister married) had to start cooking for themselves, they stopped by my house and asked, "Do you ever eat mushrooms?" Now, when I was growing up, the closest exposure to mushrooms my family had was Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, too; but fortunately, Kali has significantly broadened my food palette to include fungi, and we regularly eat (and enjoy) mushrooms. So, I replied to my father and sister, "Sure, we eat mushrooms. Why do you ask?" My father answered, "Well, we bought some the other day and boiled them, and they weren't very good!" Geez...they must have been like rubber balls. My father had cookbooks in the house; why didn't he just look up how to properly cook mushrooms?

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  7. MandT-- You surprise me. I would have never guessed that morels grew in Michigan. I love your description of how you prepared them and served them in origami boxes. I would have loved seeing something like that. Next time we have morels in the house, we'll try the unsalted butter and vermouth saute. Yum.

    Scott-- You made me laugh. Thank you for that. I love knowing that your intro to mushrooms started out with Campbell's soup as well. As I mentioned in the comment to Mark, I can't imagine a meal now that doesn't have mushrooms in it. Roger used to collect Shaggy Manes in Port Townsend. Had one bad experience with them, but otherwise they were quite good too. I'm a little less adventurous with wild mushrooms, but morels...what a feast!

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  8. What a great visit! With bonus morels!

    I don't even think the household of my youth even did canned mushroom soup -- although I'm pretty sure that was an ingredient in various potluck dishes involving tuna, noodles, and crunched potato chips on top.

    One friend's mom did a "gourmet cooking" mini-class, which was party food and salads -- she liked raw mushrooms for salads and veggie platters.

    Two other friends decided that because my home was hopeless on the cooking front, I would learn to cook a decent meal from a cookbook. And the beef stroganoff recipe included mushrooms. Cooked!

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  9. kathy a-- Oh yes, I'm sure those tuna and noodle casseroles had Cream of Mushroom soup. It was an essential ingredient back then. I was never much of a fan of raw mushrooms, but sauteed in just about anything (like scrambled eggs with chard and mushrooms!) makes me happy. I'm looking forward to our next morel meal. Not sure when it will happen, but I know it will!

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  10. Am having another cream of mushroom soup flashback, this time to chicken roasted with the soup slathered all over it. ~1983? (Somebody's old family recipe.)

    We love mushrooms, and are lucky to have a variety available, but not morels. They sound delish.

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  11. kathy a-- I've never heard of that particular Cream of Mushroom soup recipe. I'm trying to imagine how to slather that soup on a chicken. Interesting, very interesting. I don't eat many different kinds of mushrooms. I pass on the shitakes and oyster, but I may have to expand my mushroom horizons!

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  12. The peak of campbell's mushroom soup recipes must have been near the peak of those awful jello salads -- do you remember that? Straying from the subject of morels, sorry. xoxo

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    1. Ah, the coincidence of mushroom soup recipes and jello salads is the nightmare menu of suburbia. I remember a TV commercial from the 60s for BirdsEye frozen foods, the spokesperson said, "Hi I'm Peg Bracken and I wrote 'The I Hate To Cook Cookbook'." I think that sums up the food ambiance of the time.

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    2. I just found this wonderful quote from Peg Bracken, "Brown the garlic, onion, and crumbled beef in the oil. Add the flour, salt, paprika, and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink." LOL.

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    3. That was totally the gourmet ambiance in my childhood home. LOL

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  13. Except the garlic and paprika, of course, which were not present. The one spice (not counting cinnamon, for cinnamon toast) was oregano. Also, no mushrooms.

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  14. Lovely stories! Being incredibly nosy, I do so wonder what happened the 108 (good number!) acres and the back to the land effort of your cousins. I always want to hear of folks sticking with the land and making it really work long-term. Ben Hewitt has a lovely blog and books; few say it better than he about the joys of simplicity and living on, in and from the land. May all small farms flourish and nourish.

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  15. Diana-- Thank you so much for your comment. Well, sadly, my cousin sold the property in Virginia and moved into town. OTOH, my older brother is still living out on his land in Virginia, growing his garden and helping fight the gas pipeline that is threatening to cut through that beautiful rural land.

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