Mushroom hunting: morels, verpas, puffballs and coral
We went mushroom hunting this weekend around Mount Rainier, though I won’t say exactly where. A coworker who led this particular trip has a shirt that says: “Anyone silly enough to ask a morel plucker where he found ‘em is also foolish enough to believe the answer.” So, I’ll play by the rules and stay mum.
Ben and I were skunked two weekends ago hunting for morels, and no wonder why: You have to find the right habitat, time the mushrooms to catch them when they’re fruiting, and, if you manage all that, find the little fellas. As Matt, our mushroom guide, said, “Finding morels is about half knowledge and half mojo.” We had neither without Matt.
This past weekend, we found a few black morels (Morchella conica) right away, though the mushrooms were past their prime. (In mushrooming terms, they were grade “Cs,” so they’re not good for much else but drying.)
We then went up a bit in elevation on a different type of slope and Ben found a cluster of verpas (Verpa bohemicas), which Matt said was an indicator that it was too early for morels there.
Matt, by the way, is among the most generous people I know. He brought bags of morels from his last hunt to make us a scallop-and-morel risotto dinner that was out-of-this-world decadent.
Brock found the first “A” — a morel in perfect condition — in an old burn by our campsite the next morning. That morel debuted in a new campsite delicacy: a skewered, bacon-wrapped mushroom roasted over the fire. Ben called it the gourmet paleo diet.
The real queen of the hunt was Lauren, who found more than two dozen morels, including her first cluster!
The rest of us found a handful each, including some coral and puffball mushrooms. The coral reminded me of scallops or lightly cooked squid in texture, though not in taste. The puffballs were melt-in-your-mouth soft and reminded me immediately of foie gras, both in flavor and mouthfeel. For Californians who won’t be able to buy foie gras starting July 1st, puffballs are your friendly, vegetarian alternative. (But please, oh please don’t make them vegan; they need butter!)
This is blasphemous, I know, but I actually preferred puffballs to morels when served straight up, hot out of the pan and glistening with butter. As a mushroom to cook with, though, morels can’t be beat since their flavor and texture stands up to other ingredients.
The only spring mushroom we missed were the spring kings — porcinis. But, if all goes to plan, we’ll be back out there in a few weeks to see what we can find.