“Nature alone is antique, and the oldest art a mushroom.” – Thomas Carlyle
Every spring the faithful make their annual trek to the woods. Camping you might think? Bird watching perhaps? All wonderful activities, but what I am referencing is something far more delicious and rewarding. If conditions are favourable, this is the beginning of mushroom picking season.
Nothing satisfies the discerning palette more than marvellous mushrooms, and the luxury model of all, the morel, is found only in the springtime. These tasty fungi can fetch a handsome price in the marketplace, but few people are willing to part with their find, no matter what price is offered.
But these days locating a good patch of morels, or any edible mushrooms for that matter, is a challenge. Few good sites are left, and those that know of one aren’t telling the rest of us. I would love to go picking, but deterrents such as picking up ticks, encountering a bear, getting lost or stepping on a snake often keep me out of the bush. Worse yet is the prospect of picking the wrong kind which can have disastrous consequences. But I do venture out behind our barn where I have found a scant few. Thank goodness for a good friend who gifts us a few packages of morels each Christmas!
When I was growing up mushrooms were a staple in our household as my mom would freeze, can and dry them. She often ran out of freezer space and jars, so she dried them on big screens. Whenever rain threatened we would quickly scoop them back into bags and move them to a dry spot. Later those bags full of dried mushrooms would be hung from hooks in the basement.
My dad would often arrive back home from the farm, usually late in the evening, with a trunkful of mushrooms he had picked. If he had hit the jackpot, every container he could find would have been brought into service, including his jacket which made a great shopping bag when he tied the arms together. (When a farmer leaves his work to pick mushrooms, you know they have to be good.)
As much as I like eating these succulent items, I dislike cleaning them. (It could be because we were often faced with cleaning the equivalent of several 5 gallon pails full at a single sitting.) But clean them you must, and in a timely manner, since these woodland edibles do not last long once picked.
There we would be scraping, cleaning and slicing them well into the night. After a few hours the shoulders and back would start to ache, but the biggest drawback was the yellowish-brown stains left on your hands. No amount of soap and water would get rid of the awful colouring. (Believe me, a chain smoker’s fingers looked good next to mine!) So a good soaking in water and bleach would be in order to make my hands presentable for school the next day. Of course, essence of Javex wasn’t the most appealing smell, but what’s a girl to do?
Ah! The things we have to endure for our love of gourmet food. But it’s worth every bite!
Happy hunting to all the mushroom aficionados out there! And if you have too many mushrooms on your hands, well…you know who to call.