Friday, June 19, 2009

Morels and False Morels

Something that I've started doing since moving to Northwestern Montana is going mushroom hunting. While this is a fun venture it can also be a little hazardous if you don't know what to look for. Around here the best edible fungi to eat is the morel. The only problem is that there are also false morels that can be toxic if consumed. Keep in mind however that no morel should ever be eaten raw as they do contain small amounts of toxin which are eliminated in the cooking process. Hopefully this next post will eliminate the chance of getting the wrong 'shroom and you all can have some fun in the woods.

True Morels:
The best known morels are the yellow morel, the white morel, and the black morel. Each grow in different types of habitats though all morels have a close association with land touched by forest fire. The yellow morel and white morels typically are found under deciduous trees rather than coniferous such as; ash, sycamore, tulip trees, elms, cottonwoods, oak, etc. The black morel can be found under either deciduous or coniferous trees. Since I am located in the northwest part of Montana I'll be talking about the Black Morels because of their abundance in this region.

Black Morel (Morchella elata)
This tasty little mushroom is usually found in recently (2-3 years) burned areas in coniferous and aspen stands between April and June. It has a conical to egg-shaped cap that is has a distinctive honeycomb pattern whose ridges are black-brown with pale cream colored hollows. There is no set size to black morels since they truly do depend on the habitat around them for growth. I've seen them ranging anywhere from thumb-sized to fist-sized in any given location. The best part of morel hunting is eating them. The two cooking methods that are typically used with black morels is to either sautee them with butter in a pan or to deep fry them as you would a typical mushroom. Morels can also be canned or freeze dried for later use when they are not in season. When freeze dried, all you have to do is reconstitute them in a little water and then cook as you would fresh morels.

False Morels:
One can tell the difference between a true morel and a false morel by the careful study of the cap. Instead of having a true honeycomb pattern as with true morels, false morels will have a "wrinkled" or "brainy" pattern and the cap will generally be larger and darker than a typical true morel. The caps of false morels also flair out more than a true morel whose cap will touch or almost touch the base of the stem.

So with that I leave you and wish you happy morel hunting in your years to come.

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