Morel Mania!

This past weekend was our local Mycological Society’s Morel Foray and Camp Out. As a new member, I was excited about the possibility of spending the day with folks knowledgeable in the how, what, where, and why’s of edible mushrooms.

We are advised to meet first thing in the morning to pick up our directions map and receive final instructions on the weekend plans. I arrive full of anticipation and learn, much to my surprise, that we are headed high into the Cascades, and to my old stomping grounds, the Metolius River region between Suttle Lake and Camp Sherman.

It’s a glorious day, clear and blue, with a slight warming trend anticipated. My friend, Harriet and her husband, John invite me to carpool with them since they are also day tripping. They are ahead of me on the learning curve and we chat incessantly about mushrooms for almost two hours. Harriet is familiar with many of the popular mushrooms, and even tosses out a few Latin appellations; she recently hit the big time with her own find of hedgehogs and chanterelles. I’m in very good company.

The club re-assembles at Jack Creek, armed with hats, sun screen, and a wide assortment of quirky gathering baskets, each indicative of their owner’s personality. Before we can set out in search of the elusive morel, our youngest member at 9 years, spots the first specimen sprouting beneath the parked family SUV. Our leaders proclaim this an indicator of good luck, and we all embark with a big “hurrah!” and a strong sense of empowerment.

Unfortunately, most of us return with empty baskets, or simply a few odd items to share. The sharing turns out to be the most entertaining part of the entire day. Our team leaders wax eloquently over whatever we drag back – always including the Latin designation and any worthwhile tidbits of mycological lore.

We are one of the lucky ones; John and I eye what appear to be white rocks in the path directly ahead of us. On further investigation and poking, Harriet appears and announces we have unearthed puffballs! We are fully engaged, heads posed downward, fretting over the white balls in the dirt, when another member joins us. He murmurs, “No, don’t bother,” and walks off. Leave it to Harriet, she insists that we bring our find back and share it with the group. Except for our team leader, Chris, who displays 6 or 8 medium morels, we are apparently the big winners. The puffballs are sliced open, examined for any off coloring, and the requisite firm flesh; they are proclaimed the real deal, and highly edible.

Onto our second and more promising site: a burn area, apparently a setting highly favored by discriminating morels. We pick our way up the side of a burnt lava flow. Our team leaders discover “butts”, a clear sign that commercial pickers have hit the area before us. They are known for slicing the morel head and leaving just the stump, or “butt” in the ground. Nevertheless, we separate and create a wide flank up the mountainside.

Soon there are shouts across the horizon as each of us discovers morel heads popping out of the earth. I cheer my cohorts on, but am empty handed, until we turn and head back down the hill. Perhaps it’s the light, but suddenly I am seeing morels everywhere! Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but along with my earlier puffballs, I find just enough to make a lovely dinner for two.

Linguine with Morels and Puffballs

The popular Italian Aglio e Olio (Garlic and Oil Sauce) embellished with freshly picked mushrooms

6 ounces linguine or other pasta
1/3 cup olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, slivers
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon oregano, dried
3/4 cup morels and puffballs, cleaned well and sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
Few grinds black pepper
3 tablespoons sliced green onions or parsley
Begin by heating a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook til al dente.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in small saucepan; add the garlic slivers, the red pepper flakes, oregano and sauté until aromatic.Add the mushrooms and sauté about 5 minutes, until soft and their moisture is released; add salt, Worcestershire sauce, the remaining olive oil, and heat well.Drain the pasta, drizzle it with about 2 tbsp. of the pasta sauce and toss to coat; add the Parmesan cheese, black pepper, green onion or parsley, and toss well. Portion the pasta into 2 servings and divide the remaining sauce equally over the tops. Serves 2 ~~

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