The Mighty Hunter’s Bounty — Oklahoma Morel Foraging, 2019

Be Vewwy Quiet — We’re Hunting Mushwooms!

Mushroom Hunting

Wet, Warm Spring Spawns Spectacular ’shrooms

My friend RT Valine and his wife Jackie were vis­it­ing the Bureau one evening and we got to dis­cussing food and cook­ing. The Valines live in rural Allen, Oklahoma. When the con­di­tions are right, they have access to wild morel mush­rooms.

Morchella escu­lenta, or yel­low morels, are widely dis­trib­uted, but espe­cially com­mon in east­ern North America and the Midwest. They are the most com­mon species found in Oklahoma. Despite the pop­u­lar name, they can be pale brown­ish cream, yel­low to tan or pale brown to gray­ish brown.Morels are deli­cious, but hard to come by unless you know some­one who knows some­one. I some­times see them at the farm­ers’ mar­ket, but the prices are dear and they dis­ap­pear quickly — you’ve got to be first in line if you expect to buy any.

Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) — Oklahoma Morel Foraging, 2019
Mayapples (Podophyllum pelta­tum). All parts of the plant except the fruit are poi­so­nous, includ­ing the seeds. The fruit must be cooked to be safe to eat. It can be made into jel­lies or pre­serves.

Being the gen­er­ous peo­ple they are, the Valines invited me to stay in their com­fort­ably appointed guest cabin to for­age for the tasty fungi dur­ing morel sea­son. I gladly accepted the offer.

When choos­ing food to accom­pany morels, avoid strongly fla­vored ingre­di­ents. The del­i­cate taste and aroma of the mush­rooms is eas­ily over­whelmed. Strong cheeses, raw or under­cooked gar­lic, and highly aro­matic spices are all no-​nos. The sim­pler the bet­ter. I picked up three small rib­eye steaks to accom­pany the mush­rooms we’d be eat­ing for din­ner. I also har­vested some of the vol­un­teer chives that have been grow­ing in my yard since they escaped my neglected herb gar­den many sea­sons ago; these were to go on some scram­bled eggs.

Into the Woods

The same con­di­tions that pro­duce boun­ti­ful morels also apply to ticks. When for­ag­ing in the Oklahoma woods, wear high boots, long pants, and a long-​sleeved top. Apply insect repel­lent gen­er­ously. DEET for direct-​to-​skin appli­ca­tion and per­me­thrin for apply­ing to cloth­ing are the most effec­tive tick-​preventatives for peo­ple.I met RT at the Allen Dollar General Store, where we left my MINI Cooper in the park­ing lot. We took his truck straight to the first honey hole: an active oil lease that RT had per­mis­sion to for­age on. Driving slowly on the dirt road into the lease, we watched out the win­dows to see if we could spot any morels. RT saw a cou­ple from the driver’s side, but they were either imma­ture or had begun to dry out. Eventually I saw a good one from the pas­sen­ger side, so we parked and har­vested it, then set out into the woods to see if we could find more.

Bracket Fungi on Burnt Branch — Oklahoma Morel Foraging, 2019
Bracket Fungi on Burnt Branch — Oklahoma Morel Foraging, 2019

For for­ag­ing mush­rooms, I rec­om­mend a sharp carbon-​steel knife and a mush­room brush. Some purpose-​made mush­room knives have an inte­grated brush. The Opinel No. 8 and the Opinel mush­room knives are clas­sics.Over the next ninety min­utes or so we har­vested a bounty of morels, with RT spot­ting three for every one I found. We placed our haul in net onion bags on the the­ory it would help spread the spores. At a cer­tain point we con­cluded we had enough and headed to his home­stead, after a quick stop to get my MINI. Arriving at the guest cabin, I dropped off my Gladstone and went up to the main house. There, I took a load off and enjoyed a refresh­ing beer in the Valines’ liv­ing room.

GG, L’il Kim, Wino, & RT — Oklahoma Morel Foraging, 2019
GG, L’il Kim, Wino, & RT — Oklahoma Morel Foraging, 2019

After we had cooled off and recu­per­ated some of our expended energy we set out across the road. RT had had good luck hunt­ing there and thought we might find more mush­rooms. The dog, Wino, and the two goats, GG and L’il Kim, fol­lowed us and kept us com­pany dur­ing the hunt. An hour in we’d found very few mush­rooms and the older goat, GG, was get­ting tired. By this time my legs were aching and I was bleed­ing from the ubiq­ui­tous saw­briar, so I was glad for the excuse to turn back.

Good Food, Good Company

Moonshine — RT n’ the 44sMoonshine — RT n’ the 44sAfter sun­down, RT pan-​fried the steaks over the out­door firepit while I prepped the scram­bled eggs and Jackie cleaned the morels, sea­son­ing half of them with salt, pep­per, and gar­lic to accom­pany the steaks. While the ribeyes were rest­ing I cooked the eggs low and slow à la Jamie Oliver.

The Last Morel — Oklahoma Morel Foraging, 2019
The Last Morel — Oklahoma Morel Foraging, 2019

We sat around the firepit eat­ing and drink­ing the cold beers. I’d brought along a bot­tle of moon­shine RT had given me a few weeks ear­lier but which I hadn’t fin­ished; we emp­tied it while the embers died down and the crick­ets sang.

— Chris J. Zähller

Recipe

Scrambled Eggs (Recipe)

For each per­son:

3
Farm fresh eggs
2 tsp
Minced chives
2 oz
Grated sharp cheese (e.g., ched­dar)
1 oz
Heavy (whip­ping) cream
(To taste)
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pep­per
TBSP
Unsalted but­ter
  1. Melt but­ter in a well-​seasoned cast-​iron or non-​stick pan over low heat.
  2. Combine all ingre­di­ents except but­ter in a bowl. Using a heat-​proof sil­i­cone spat­ula, gen­tly break the yolks and fold them in. Do not over­mix.
  3. Pour the eggs into the mid­dle of the pan. As the eggs begin to set, use the spat­ula to move the eggs from the pan edge to the cen­ter, occa­sion­ally turn­ing the mix­ture over. Do not allow eggs to stick or dry out; keep them mov­ing. The mix­ture should form large, soft curds. Remove the pan from the heat as needed to reg­u­late the tem­per­a­ture.
  4. When the eggs are barely set — they should be shiny and slightly runny — trans­fer them to a warm plate. Taste for sea­son­ing, adjust­ing if needed, and keep in a warm oven until ready to serve.
  5. Serve with morels (sliced cross-​wise and sautéed in but­ter) and toast points.

Technical

Technical

The pho­tographs in this story were taken with a Hasselblad medium-​format film cam­era on Kodak Tri-​X. For the image The Last Morel — Oklahoma Morel Foraging, 2019 I employed a Proxar f=1M close-​focus lens attached to the Planar 50mm. The pic­ture of the empty moon­shine bot­tle was made with a Leica M9-​P with Zeiss Sonnar 50MM lens.

Camera
Hasselblad 503CX with A12 back
Lens
Carl Zeiss Planar C T* 50mm ƒ/2,8
+ Carl Zeiss Proxar f=1M (The Last Morel only)
Aperture
ƒ/​11
Exposure
1125th sec­ond
ISO
400
Film
Kodak Tri-​X 400 Professional 120
Developer
Adox Adonal (Rodinal) 1:100
semi-​stand in Paterson Super System 4 day­light tank
Scanner
Epson Perfection v850
Software
Vuescan
Adobe Lightroom 6

Warning

Warning

  • Never pick and eat wild mush­rooms unless they’ve been iden­ti­fied by an expe­ri­enced for­ager or other expert.
  • Look-​alike mush­rooms are decep­tive. Mushroom iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in one locale is not reli­able for iden­ti­fy­ing mush­rooms in another locale.
  • Cooking doesn’t make a poi­so­nous mush­room safe. The cook­ing fumes from some poi­so­nous mush­rooms can kill you.

If you think some­one has eaten a poi­so­nous wild mush­room, call Poison Control imme­di­ately at 1 (800) 222-​1222.

About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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