When I was growing up in the midwest, my family spent many weekends in a remote part of Wisconsin where the only entertainment was the adventures we dreamed up on a vast expanse of farm land. After enduring harsh winters, much of it spent indoors playing countless board games and taking turns cooking (or stirring) at the stove, we enthusiastically welcomed the warm weather. Spring and summer meant long hikes in the pasture, brown bag lunch excursions next to a pebbled stream and playing in the overgrown garden. Surrounded by an ancient apple orchard, the garden was lush with tall stalks of tart rhubarb, pencil-thin asparagus spears and tumbles of tart concord grapes, all of which provided an edible education and plentiful afternoon snacks until our stomachs ached. Little did I know back then that one of my favorite farm foraged foods, morel mushrooms, was an expensive seasonal ingredient sought after by discerning chefs.
Our neighbor (who lived more than a mile away) grazed cattle on the land and knew just where to forage these prized fungi. Morels have an earthy scent, much like that of the forest floor. Just picked morels are soft and spongey with an earthy scent of the forest floor. Their honeycomb – shaped spores create the perfect surface for absorbing flavor. My favorite way to eat morels is how my mom used to make them, lightly breaded with an egg and flour batter and pan sautéed in foamy brown butter until golden and soft. We devoured them hot out of the pan, just after they were sprinkled with salt.
Morels have since become more easily found, but they hold an expensive price tag. At a cost of roughly $20-25 per pound, I still have no hesitation snapping up a heaping handful whenever they’re in season, which are only a few months, starting in April. If you have morels growing in your neck of the woods, you’ll typically find them growing at the base of dead or dying elms, old apple orchards, old ash, and poplar trees . If you’re lucky enough to have access to these spongey fungi, consider yourself a fortunate forager!
BATTER PAN-FRIED MOREL MUSHROOMS
This recipe is so simple, I can’t really call it a recipe, it’s more like a “go by” how to make it. You can create all kinds of variations, using panko breadcrumbs or adding chopped fresh or dried herbs to the flour or breadcrumb mixture. Just be sure to let the flavor of these delicate fungi shine.
Fresh morel mushrooms (about an ounce per person)
2 whole eggs, beaten
1 cup all -purpose flour, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Coarse sea salt
Dip the cleaned morel mushrooms and coat until the all surfaces are completely covered. Drain off excess, then dip into the flour and coat lightly, shaking off any excess flour. Carefully place into pan and cook over medium heat until golden brown on each side. Remove from the pan and sprinkle with salt. Eat immediately!