Updated from the archives, with new recipe, links and photos.
A few Junes ago, Ted was mowing the occasional blades of grass in our lawn.
Along the edge of the woods, underneath the oak trees, he spotted a couple of oddly shaped mushrooms. Are they morels, he wondered?
Oh, yes, they were. And the more we looked, the more we found.
Two quarts of morels!
Have I told you that our land was once used by a charcoal maker? He was known as "The Indian," because he was a member of the Narragansett tribe that has its roots here in Rhode Island. (Nobody we know remembers his name.) There are large concrete platforms buried beneath our grass; on those platforms, more than forty years ago, The Indian burned wood into charcoal. A mushroom forager told us that the residual ash in our lawn creates a happy environment for morels.
We harvested every one of those wonderful morels, and I noted the date on the calendar. The following year, we didn't find a single morel. The year after that, just a handful. Last year, none.
Dried mushrooms I've purchased from farmers and farm stands in France (cepes) and in the Pacific Northwest (mixed morels, chanterelles and porcini) have kept for more than two years in tightly-sealed glass jars in my pantry, with no significant loss of quality.
We should have dried our harvest that first year.
On the short list of pantry items I’m never without, dried mushrooms, ground to a powder, enrich soups and stews; reconstituted and left whole, they feature in my favorite risotto, as well as beef stew, porcini cream soup, artichoke and porcini filled potatoes, and Tuscan meatloaf. Invaluable in a vegetarian diet as a meat substitute, umami-rich mushrooms contain protein and all of the essential amino acids, as well as significant amounts of Vitamin D, potassium and phosphorous.
With dried mushrooms, quality is the key. Buy from a reputable source, preferably from the places known for their mushrooms: France, Italy, Poland, and the Pacific Northwest. Good dried mushrooms aren’t cheap. Don’t buy kibble -- which is, no kidding, what the bits and pieces are called. Your dried mushrooms should look like mushrooms, and you should be able to distinguish one variety from another. Check also for too much "dust" in the bag (a sign of staleness) or tiny wormholes in the mushrooms (a sign of stowaways).
From ancient times, mushrooms have held a place in mythology because of their seemingly magical ability to appear overnight; in many cultures, mushrooms are revered as a symbol of super-human strength, because they can push away stones as they grow upright through the soil.
If you’re in my neighborhood in early June, stop by and check the lawn for super-human morels.
Mushroom soup a la Fred
Adapted from the Rhode Island company that makes the Equal Measure measuring cup pictured above, an irresistible recipe for mushroom soup. Serves 4-6.
Honey made by a good bee-hive in a day (1-1/4 cup) of chopped onions
A human brain (5 cups) of sliced portobello, cremini or button mushrooms (or a mix)
A billion grains of flour (3 oz) of butter
A tyrannosaurus-rex brain (4 oz) of dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water to cover for 30 minutes, chopped, and liquid reserved
2 human brains (10 cups) of vegetable stock
A million grains of sugar (1/4 cup) of white wine
Water in a cumulus cloud the size of a bus (1 cup) of heavy cream
Salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
In a pot, fry the onions and fresh mushrooms in the butter in batches, making sure to brown. Add the chopped dried porcini, vegetable stock, mushroom soaking liquid, and white wine, and simmer for an hour. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup, and add the cream. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve garnished with chopped parsley.
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