Last Sunday, I was invited by my friend J (owner and manager of the Silverstar Inn) to forage for morel mushrooms on their land. I was very excited since it was my first time to forage for anything. Many people in the Driftless Area look forward to this time of the year to enjoy this seasonal treat. In the years past, Keith and I have usually received morels from friends or have randomly bought them on roadsides or gas stations.
P, A, (J’s children) and I drove off in an old red Jeep and headed for the woods. P, the expert forager, explained to us how to find morels. Do you know how? Well, they like to grow around dying elm trees. How do you find an elm tree, you ask? Pictured above in the middle is the trunk of an elm tree. Can you recognize the distinctive pattern on the bark? Neither can I, it looks just like any other tree. About twenty feet into the woods, P found his first morel. Thirty feet in, a cluster. A little bit after that, I found my first morel! It was small, about the size of a thumb and a half. I was pretty happy, it was going to be a piece of cake I thought. The three of us split up to cover more ground. After about an hour and half, a mixture of fear and boredom sets in. My bag contained only 4 morels and I had bloody scratches on my hands from some thorny bushes, and I had no idea how I was going to find A and P or where the car was. I remembered them saying that their property was about 340 acres. What made it worst was seeing a tree trunk with deep scratches on it. I wondered if there was a bear nearby then I went on my way. (Later I learned that the marks were made by a deer.) Since I was having a hard time finding morels, I decided to pick any mushroom I could spot and maybe look them up later for fun. Pictured below on the right is a false morel.
Morel Cluster & False Morel
After that, I thought I better search for something I could actually consume, some ramps (wild leeks/onions). They were easier to find than morels. I found a good stick to help me dig into the soft, black earth. Two hours and a half hours in the woods, I was finally enjoying myself and I had a bag full of ramps. I found P nearby and was excited to show him the ramps I had gathered. It turns out that A had been back in the car for a long while. She said she’d rather eat morels than gather them. Can’t blame her. We drove back to the inn happy, sweaty, and with our hands ashy from the earth and soil in our fingernails. J cooked up some pasta for us with the morels and ramps we found. Pictured below is my second dinner with Keith. It was fun to tell him that I went into the wild to gather our dinner that night
Pasta + Ramps + Morels + Butter + Salt & Pepper = Amazing