Finding Morels and Myself
I find that I tend to write far more about the changing of the seasons that about anything else. While I've known since I was a small kid that many birds fly south for the winter and many trees grow new leaves each year, I only really started to map these changes when I began gathering wild foods. Each food comes up in just the right time of the year. Each week throughout the spring, summer, and fall is like unwrapping a new present, trying to figure out if a spring rain is enough to pop out the morels or if it will decrease the salinity to the Hudson and prevent the saltwater species from swimming upriver.
Its no secret that I love wild foods. The complex process by which you learn to identify each plant and mushroom, the techniques you use to catch each fish or hunt each animal, the ways were prepare each food in its own way, all add up to an experience that can not be matched with store-bought or even homegrown food.
The past few months I've found myself behind a desk and unable to forage for my meals. In fact, I've been so busy going from desk to desk that I haven't been able to even cook many of my meals, relying on takeout far more often than I'm comfortable with. This has done a number on my body and my spirit. As much as I've tried to get outside during this winter, I wasn't able to harvest a single meal off the land.
These experiences made Monday's adventure all the more sweet.
After leading bird walks all morning, I took some time to visit a spot where I found morels last year. Since they are mushroom that grow from mycelial networks in the soil, its a safe bet that they could be found in the same spot if the conditions were right. A light rain over the last few days was exactly what mushrooms like to pop up out of the soil so I headed to the patch fairly confident I would find something.
I got to the tree I use as a landmark and saw someone with a weed-whacker trimming the edges of each field. My time was short, I needed to find whatever was there before he destroyed what he didn't know was there.
It was tricky. Morels are notoriously tricky. You scan the ground standing up, kneeling down looking at every leaf suspiciously. Is it really a mushroom in disguise? Just as I was about to move on, POP. Right in front of me was a big beautiful fresh morel mushroom. After giving thanks, I picked it, popped off the "root ball" and buried it to propagate the mycelium and continued to look.
If you've never done it, I can't tell you how exciting it is to find the exact mushroom you are looking for. A sense of deep satisfaction fills you up and drives you to find the next one. Its easy to see why people become so obsessed with this field, diving ever deeper into the taxonomy and life history of mushrooms.
Energized by this one mushroom, I ventured on hoping to discover another patch. While there wasn't another patch of morels, I found the motherland of spring vegetables. Tender Japanese knotweed, feral mint, onion grass, violets, even a few ramp leaves all went into my foraging basket which felt satisfyingly full by the end.
On my way back, I thought to check on the patch of morels again. I figured that a second look wouldn't hurt and I was rewarded with two more morels that had been hiding under a spruce branch.
Satisfied and tired, I went back to my car and drove home for a nap having walked more that morning than I had in months.
The next morning I woke with the sun and began on a breakfast to rival any other. A Knotweed and onion grass frittata topped with sautéed morels and served with a cold mint tea.
Nothing beats that to fill your cup and your belly.