Thursday, June 14, 2007
Wild mushroom Hunt: Morcella esculenta / Yellow morels
All my regular readers know by now that I love mushrooms, especially wild ones. And although you can easily buy various fresh wild mushrooms at the market or preserved wild mushrooms in supermarkets, I prefer forageing for my own wild mushrooms - see here and here, for example. There's something immensely gratifying and refreshing about those long and quiet walks in the forests, and the excitement about what and where and how much we'll find is fun.
In late April and early May, I came across few ladies selling morels at the Tallinn Central Market. There's nothing special about these mushrooms as such (they were on the menu in pretty much every restaurant in London back in April), although they tend to be somewhat unknown among urban fungiphiles here in Estonia. K and his mom, for example, know loads of autumnal wild mushrooms, but had never come across morels yet. They hadn't even looked for any. When in Paluküla in early May, I asked my grandma and uncle and other villagers about morel mushrooms, and they knew nothing. Yet, my recently acquired new mushroom forager's bible, 400 Eesti seent (400 Estonian mushrooms) had a picture of black morels (Morchella conica) on the cover and claimed that these spring mushrooms should be pretty common in northern Estonia.
I was convinced that if I just looked hard enough, I'd find some.
And so I did. In mid-May, K's mum - as I said, hitherto unfamiliar with morels - asked around in her village about some unfamiliar spring mushrooms, and soon enough one of the neighbours told her that there are funny-looking mushrooms growing on the grassy open field just outside their farm. She picked up the mushrooms (on the bottom left, see photo above) and brought them to us for identification. With the help of the trusty mushroom bible we easily identified them as Morcella esculenta, examples of one of the yellow morels (pallohuhtasieni in Finnish, rundtoppmurkla in Swedish, сморчок настоящий alias smortšok nastojaššii in Russian). A fortnight later we were in Paluküla area again, and K. and I headed out to the field where the mushrooms were found earlier. Nothing.. We wondered around for about half an hour, carefully staring at the open fields, trying to spot a precious morel, but without luck. On the way back to the house we decided to have one last look at a yellow-green open field surrounded by tall birch trees. And voilà - suddenly I spotted a huge yellow morel (bottom right, photo above). And another, and another and another. Four in total. Then my mushroom luck was over, but K. found four more mushrooms (- you see, there is justice and gender equality in the world, after all:) Quite surprisingly, we returned from our first ever morel forageing trip with eight succulent yellow morels (top left, photo above). We must have got a good nose for mushrooms, the pair of us :)
The mushrooms? Well, if you've got something so delicious, you don't want to over-handle them. We cleaned and sliced them, fried in butter with some salt and pepper and a dash of cream, and ate them with some fried garlic scapes and salad leaves (top right, photo above). Mmmmmm.
I've got a feeling that it'll be a good year for wild mushrooms...
PS You can read more about identifying morel mushrooms over at MushroomExpert.com. Only pick mushrooms that you are certain about!!!