What the Morel?
It's always funny to think about how times change, isn't it? And not just in measures like the price of gas or groceries, or how we've gone from waiting a week to see our favorite TV shows to calling in sick on a Tuesday so we can binge watch an entire season of them, but also in ways which are highly-personal too.
Take me for example. My new girlfriend hates mushrooms, but my ex-wife loved them. And while this might seem like an innocuous-enough factoid not to warrant any further consideration, it not only proves my point but also helps in lending the inspiration for this article.
You see, last weekend, as I was stirring up a pot of chicken and wild rice soup...with plenty of Cremini mushrooms by the way (sorry bestie, I like 'em ;-), I suddenly remembered that Morel season is upon us here in North Central Washington. And this thunderbolt of realization got me to thinking about the one and only time I ever went hunting for Morels...and what a truly humiliating experience it was!
But before I spin ya the yarn, in case you didn't already know, Morels are a type of wild mushroom that grow in the forests and wooded areas of the state. And competition for these phenomenal fungi is high, due to their ample size and delicious flavor.
Morels aren't pretty though. They have a stem that's the color of plain yogurt mixed with volcanic ash, and a top that looks like the misshapen brain of a madman - in a shade of brown that would qualify as sickly even to a house fly that's on the prowl for the exposed edge of a dirty diaper in the garbage can. But despite these less than pleasing aesthetic virtues, Morels still fetch upwards of $100 per pound or more!
Now my tale about hunting for Morels has nothing to do with trying to make a profit. It was just a simple exercise in passing the time on a warm spring weekend roughly twenty years ago.
My ex-wife is from the Deep South but spent a good chunk of her adolescence in the Upper Valley after moving to Eastern Washington, so she knew a lot of the area's off-the-beaten-path nooks and crannies for doing things like bird watching, picnicking, and of course finding Morel mushrooms. So knowing her proclivity for rustling up some fairly unconventional fun, I gladly agreed to go Morel hunting with her one day in early May.
Neither of us were early risers, but we set out in the morning a bit before we would have ordinarily been even slightly coherent on a Sunday morning.
We took her car and drove somewhere to hell and gone up a long and winding dirt track that waved goodbye to any notion of asphalt somewhere near the outskirts of Cashmere, and after kicking up dust with four wheels under us for at least a half an hour, we found a grassy patch at the side of the road to pop the car in park and set out on our hunt.
As we walked to the tree-canopied patch of land within the forest that she'd spied for us to conduct our quest, she offered me a few pointers on how to spot a Morel, since I was a virgin hunter of the mushroom and she was nothing short of a certifiable madam of Morels.
It all sounded easy enough to me and I eagerly clutched my basket in anticipation of thoroughly kicking her ass with how many more of them I'd be finding than she would (such friendly competitions were a healthy part of our marriage).
Alright, so here's a little fyi for ya; Morels don't just grow out in the open, so you can't simply pick them off with ease like Easter eggs that were planted by an impatient parent. And not only do Morels hide from you, they also blend with their surroundings like Zartan at a G.I. Joe charity golf tournament too!
Now keep in mind, I'd heard all of this already. I mean, it wasn't like my wife deliberately tried to get the upper hand on our final counts by imparting me with flawed logistics. But once we actually started looking, it became quite obvious that this hunt was going to be a sad tale of David and Goliath in which Goliath stomps David's skinny behind because he's too absent of anything that could even remotely be called a internal compass for detecting mushrooms.
One thing's for sure, my wife had certainly chosen a perfect location for our hunt. The grounds of our search were heavily thatched in fallen leaves from the previous autumn and were therefore perfectly suited for the occasion...and she knew it, and immediately began taking full advantage.
As my head turned downward and my eyes began scanning the camouflaged swaths of leaves, it took exactly two seconds for me to hear, "Oh! found one!", from about fifteen feet behind me.
"Great!", I yapped back in a half-disingenuous tone. Then, about four seconds later, I heard a reply.
"Found another one!"
Damn it!, I thought to myself. What the hell's going on? I've barely cocked my neck and she's got two in the well already? Whatever, I assured myself with a plentiful amount of hubris gravy slathered on top. I'll catch up. After all, we're just getting started, right?
No, actually that wasn't the case at all. In fact, she was just getting started, while I never did...for about an entire hour!
It was an utter and absolute debacle; the most-feeble display of mushroom hunting in the history of mankind. There's truly no doubt that even Ray Charles or Helen Keller could have found more Morels that day than I did. And while I wasn't completely shut out at hunt's end, having landed no more than six or seven in my mushroom bucket, my wife thoroughly cleaned my clock with easily six or seven dozen to be found in her's!
Thankfully, my bonhomie runs deep, so after about five minutes of having my mushroom cap handed to me, I yielded to wife's obvious supremacy in the realm of mushroom hunting, and just had fun making jeers at my own expense for the rest of our time in the woods.
We returned home to wash and prep our (her) haul so we could use them in several dinner recipes that week. Morels need to soak in salt water for a good while before they can be eaten by the way.
So just a bit of fair warning to those of you who've never searched for Morels before. It's not easy! They linger under barely pooched piles of leaves and laugh at your farcical inability to detect them, then willfully establish some sort of psychic fungal connection with your wife to let her know their exact location so she can waste on you for being pathetic at foraging for food in the event a zombie mushroom apocalypse should one ever occur, thus calling into question your ability to properly care for her in the instance of such an event, and why she bothers sleeping with you at all.
So in this capacity I damn you kingdom of the Morel!...but I must say, you are awfully tasty to be sure!