Not sure if I’m bragging or confessing; but either way we did pretty well morelling this year, at the expense of working on the new evergreen garden, up-potting the last batch of tomato seedlings, giving the raspberries their second weeding…
Morels Part 1: The All American Fried Morel Experiment
Bill, being an honest and trusting soul, set up this photo without remembering that people have been known to stuff baskets with filler and put a layer of mushrooms on top. So just for the record that IS four pounds and nine and three-eighths ounces of black trumpets and the only reason it isn’t more is that we left the littler ones to grow larger for later.
Trumpet brie is one of the easiest, tastiest things to do with black trumpets and you don’t need many, either
Trumpet and caramelized onion pizza is also quick and delicious.
Maine crab and lobster mushrooms inside that crunchy crust
At the risk of jinxing things I have to say this is shaping up as a boffo mushroom year (in Midcoast Maine, anyway.) We haven’t had much chance to go out, but when we do we are finding things, including lobster mushrooms, which seem to be unusually abundant.
I am of the school that feels they get their name from their brilliant color. To me, the flavor is meaty, not fishy. But others claim they also taste faintly crustaceanlike. This isn’t as farfetched as it sounds; mushroom cell walls are primarily composed of chitin, the same material that makes crab and lobster shells.
Either way, they have a great affinity for Maine crabmeat, one of the world’s greatest seafoods.
Those bright red bits are the mushroom
A lot of wild mushrooms have delicate flavors that are easily overwhelmed. And a lot of them are typically found in small numbers or purchased in even smaller ones (except by the possessors of large dollars). As a result, a lot of wild mushroom recipes have what might be called a reverential attitude about the signature ingredient.
Nothing wrong with that – except that it tends to carry over where it isn’t essential, as in the case of sulfur shelf, Laetiporus sulphureus, aka chicken of the woods. When you find that, you generally find many pounds, plenty enough to play around with.
This curry is an example. The mushroom flavor is only one among several, but it's one that would be sorely missed if it were absent. The rice happens to have red peppers, gold raisins and pistachios. Just plain would be just as good or better.
I put “of the woods” in parentheses because I’m sure the curry would be good – albeit not this good – with genuine chicken. The shortcut is prepared spice mixtures and the multi is Indian and Thai. Cooking the mushroom in coconut milk without a preliminary saute is what brings out the reds and pinks.
Also old-faithful walking onions, always the first to appear, and a handful of garlic chives, currently taking over the side bed that’s due for renewal and therefore has not been weeded at all.
Here in our part of the Hudson Valley, this year spring is on toast in more ways than one. I’m in the office with, I confess, the air conditioner on because none of the shade trees are leafed out yet and it’s 89 **!!@^%! Degrees. Same as yesterday and tomorrow and then on Tuesday it’s supposed to get hot.
The red tulips had one day! Truth. Buds cracked in the evening at bedtime on Friday, full open by noon Saturday, then exhausted by eveniing, just like the rest of us. The pink ones, admittedly, had been open for 2 days but I was rather enjoying them.
So. Looking at the forecast made this morning a nightmarish recap of fall, when you rush around picking all the flowers that will be blasted by frost. Read More…
Things that have not changed an iota in the last 3 decades:
* If you go by the standard Thanksgiving story, all the way back to 1622 (which in fairness to history you probably shouldn’t), tradition favors venison. But tradition as usually understood demands turkey. No other meat – or poultry – will do.
* It is impossible to roast a whole turkey and have both light and dark meat come out equally delicious.
* It is impossible to convince people that this means turkeys should not be roasted whole.
Things that have changed considerably:
* Wild turkeys are back, big time, although not yet back on the table
* Cooks have discovered that brining the turkey does a great deal to help keep the meat moist. (Best dissenting opinion award: Harold Magee in the New York Times).
* The USDA has discovered it’s not necessary to create bird-flavored sawdust, i.e. internal temperature of thigh 180 degrees. The agency now allows you to stop at 165, still around 10 degrees hotter than essential for safety, but only about 5 degrees hotter than best for succulence.
* It’s no longer enough that the turkey be fresh, unpolluted by “self-basting” additives and unpierced by pop up buttons. Fresh and local is now the gold standard, except when you can get fresh, local and heritage, the high end turkey trifecta.
tips for dealing w/heritage turkeys, whichtend to be leaner and smaller than the modern standard, can be found at the end of this post.
tips for dealing with the modern standard, and the stuffing recipe follow
Another piece of not-exactly amazing news: being physically warmed up – by holding a hot drink, for instance – makes people feel more warmly toward others, more generous, more tolerant, while getting chilled – by holding a coldpak, for instance – has the opposite effect. You can read all about it here or here.
And then you can be sorry all over again that “global warming” has gotten established as the shorthand for catastrophic climate change. Warm is a hugely positive word, as others before me have been pointing out for some time. If you’re trying to sound the alarm about human-caused atmospheric changes that have enormous downsides (flood, drought, and biblically destructive storms, for starters), using a word that’s more or less synonymous with “good” is probably not such a great idea.
Same problem with undifferentiated “climate change,” given that – as you may have heard lately – change can be something desirable.
frost didn't hit the cosmos until mid-October, two weeks later than usual
Do I have a solution? Not for for the main problem, and not (at least so far) for what to call it. But for the keep yourself feeling warm part, can’t beat
Cream of (wild) Mushroom Soup
Rich in flavor but comparatively light in texture, a redemption of the genre. Also – if you tweak it a bit – a redemption of any recipe that has canned cream of mushroom soup on the ingredient list.
Cut in quarters and slice to serve
Here as promised in Bill’s how to find wild porcini post, is the recipe for Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion “Focaccia. ” The quotes are because I’m pretty sure real-deal focaccia is always plain bread with topping and this has many chunks of wild mushroom mixed into the dough. It can also have sundried tomatoes and olives, if you don’t like – or don’t have – mushrooms. Instructions for both after the jump.
Hot then cold, dry then deluginal then dry again; it’s been a difficult spring. But this year the Northeast is having an excellent morel season, so there is definitely something good to be said, namely
Blonde morels, Morchella esculenta, get ’em while you can.
The place to get them is in open woodlands or hedgerows, where the soil is alkaline. They frequently keep company with dead elms and dying apples (and poison ivy, I’m sorry to say.)
Bill Bakaitis photo
Morels in a typical habitat. Look to the left and back of the one in the middle to see more. They hide.
Field cleaning ( shaking out bugs, trimming dirt from stems) is essential, and it can be enough if the morels are growing through matted leaves or thick new growth. But a lot of them are in sandy spots or open ground where dirt has splashed up. Always carry a separate bag or basket to put the dirty ones in, so they don’t contaminate the rest.
The little heap at left in front are the dirty ones from this expedition. The little heap at the right is trimmings. Morels last a long time in the fridge if you trim off anything nasty before you put them away, loosely wrapped in waxed paper so they can get air without drying up.
When you get this many, they will dry up before you can eat them all. We used to do this on purpose, threading them on string and hanging them in the greenhouse. Morels are thin fleshed and dry quickly, concentrating the flavor. But for the last decade or so we’ve been mostly stewing them in butter and storing them in the freezer. They keep better texture that way and are much more versatile.
Now that it’s over it’s safe to say that this was not the best of morel years in the mid Hudson Valley. Early fruitings were poor, late ones abundant but caught by the rain. Dedicated (i.e. constant) hunters did ok, but we were able to go out only 8 or 10 times and thus ended up with only a few meal’s worth and nothing to put by. Over and over we either found nothing or found the ultimate frustration: carpets of riches too old and rain-ruined to be worth gathering. Fortunately, Bill the determined never quits and on his final trip of the season came home with about 7 pounds of gigantic blondes.
Which we have of course been eating and eating in all of the usual ways, and some less usual ones too, including as a rich saucelike mélange of morels and corn. The combo is an affront to freshness – corn and morels are at opposite ends of abundance season – and I can’t vouch for how this would taste with supermarket corn, but frozen home-grown Silver Queen from last fall was great.
We used it to blanket pork chops and still had quite a bit left over, so the next night when it was Bill’s turn to cook he used it as stuffing for an enormous honker morel almost 8 inches long. ( He halved the thing, egg-and-crumbed the pieces, shallow-fried them crisp and then applied the reheated sauce mixture at the very last minute).
CORN AND MOREL SAUCE
For 4 generous portions:
Slowly cook a diced medium onion in 2 tablespoons of butter until it is semi-caramelized, starting to get deep brown around the edges. Add about 4 loosely-packed cups of coarsely chopped mature morels (3 cups would probably be enough if they were young and less copiously juicy). Let stew uncovered, stirring from time to time, until the morels are fully cooked and liquid is reduced to a few tablespoons. Add a slug of Madeira , simmer for a minute or two, then add 1 ½ cups of very tender cooked corn and about 1/3 cup of heavy, not-ultrapasteurized cream. As soon as these items are hot, it’s done. Taste, add salt if needed and serve.
One of Bill’s finds, with the proper cooking fat.