Morel Mushroom

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(Scientific Name: Morchella esculenta) A wild mushroom with a cone-shape cap that forms into a honeycombed and deeply indented outer skin. The cap and stem grow from two to four inches tall and are hollow throughout. Different varieties of Morels vary in color from light yellow to dark brown with the darker colored Morels being stronger in flavor. Morels have a nut-like taste with a crisp, chewy texture that makes this mushroom a good choice for light cream sauces, pastas and egg dishes. The Morel can be found growing singly or in small groups near hardwoods, old apple orchards, and near dead elm trees, but its most popular habitat is in burned areas. It is one of the first mushrooms to appear in the spring, sprouting in some areas often before all the snow has disappeared. Morel mushrooms should never been eaten raw due to the potential to cause acute gastrointestinal illness. Fresh Morels are available seasonally, while dried Morels are available throughout the year.

There are 3 common species of Morels which are: the common Morel, the black or smokey Morel, and the half-free Morel. As the common morel begins to grow, it is referred to as the small white, Morel mushroom while it is still very young. As they mature, their color turns into a light yellow or tanish-brown and they are called yellow or golden-colored, Morel mushrooms. The black Morel change from tan and gray when young to almost entirely black as they age. This species is best eaten when it is young. The half-free Morel has a distinctively short cap with a long thick stem, developing from white to tanish brown in color as they age. Morels are also commonly referred to as sponge mushrooms.

Since raw or fresh Morel mushrooms grow in shaded areas and accumulate moisture, they will be quite moist when picked. If they are not to be prepared soon after picking, they should be stored in areas open to circulating air. When cleaning, use water with a soft brush to clean sand, grit and other debris from the pits and ridges. Cut lengthwise and check the interior for insects and other debris. If the mushrooms are not to be used immediately, they should be allowed to begin drying, which is an excellent way to preserve Morels. Morel mushrooms can be dried in a food dehydrator or they can be air dried by stringing them to be placed in a dry warm area. For air drying, insert a needle and line (fishline or a similar fine line of string will work) into each mushroom and hang them up to dry. While cutting the mushrooms in half allows for a thorough drying they can also be dried whole on a line. After drying and becoming crisp-textured, they can be placed in an airtight container for future use, at which point they can be reconstituted by soaking in water for 20 to 30 minutes.

Morels can be baked, creamed, fried, and sautéed. A delicious way to prepare the Morel is simply by sautéing the mushrooms in butter for approximately 4 to 6 minutes per side, depending on size, and serving immediately or using them as a topping for other foods, such as eggs, game, and various meats. Morel mushrooms provide a rich, earthy flavor that enhances sauces, egg dishes and a variety of hearty meats.

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