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We Have No Morels

IMG_2270“You huntin’ for morels today?” our neighbor Nathaniel asked early yesterday morning as we were getting our coffee. Our dumb gazes encouraged him to continue. “Morels! Mushrooms! Morels! They’re all over Thousand Acre, especially by the old mill.”

Bertrand looked at me with raised eyebrows. “Let’s go…” Maybe we’d hike the App Trail another weekend.

“We should google them,” the poison controller in me suggested.

“Oh, they’re very distinct,” Nathaniel reassured us. “They look kind of like Hen ‘o the Woods, but more pine cone shaped.” I had already googled an image of one. It looked like a shrub. A pale, brown pine coney shrub.”That’s it,” he smiled when I handed him my phone.

We were intrigued. Making mushroom soup from ones we’d foraged ourselves sounded so low-carbon footprint. We could mix it with the sage that had begun sprouting in the herb garden. So, out we went to Thousand Acre Swamp, the huge reserve nearby, armed with a tote bag for our booty. Maybe Remy had some truffle hunter in her DNA.

IMG_2287-1When we reached the old mill, the supposed motherlode section of the hike, we spread out and began to sniff around. No immediate appearances. This might not be so easy. We knelt down to the base of every tree, wiping the wet carpet of leaves away with our hands. Nothing.  Hmmmm. What did they look like again? We found scary black ones embedded into trees, pale beige ones that looked like oyster mushrooms and dozens of teeny brown ones hanging on like barnacles. None of these were morels, so we left them alone and sighed.

“Maybe we got here late,” I yelled over to Bertrand. “But I see no sign of human activity here. Like, no roots pulled up, no boot prints.” I wiped a bead of sweat away as I crawled through some dense, prickly, morel-less brush. “Do you think he was pranking us?”

IMG_2294

Bertrand laughed. “Next time we see him, we’ll say, ‘Morels! And Shitakes and Creminis! We found them all!” he stopped and a few seconds later, added. “‘At Guido’s!'” (our local gourmet grocer.)

Not wanting the morning to be a complete waste, we forged ahead with our hike and, in spite of ourselves, continued to hunt. Nary a morel. As we inclined up the steepest part of the path, Remy stopped short and began barking. Instinctively, I knew what she’d come upon was not a crop of mushrooms.

Remy!” I screamed. “You sit! You STAY!”

Yep, there it was. A slinky, seemingly spineless bulk of quills, lolling off into the woods. Remy sat, as commanded, and let me grab her by the collar once I caught up. The urgency in my voice worked. Or could it have been Remy’s memory kicking in?

On an unseasonably mild day last December, our sweet Standard poodle had been quilled by a porcupine during a hike. Bertrand was not with me, but our friend Amy was, with her Havanese, Cuba. Neither of us had witnessed the actual assault. Did Remy go after the porcupine viciously? I highly doubted it; it’s not in her nature. But, whether she approached it with curiosity or if she simply made an unfortunate landing on the creature during one of her gazelle-like off-the-path tears, we will never know. The dazed look of “What the fuck just happened to me?” on her face, combined with the fact that only her snout got quilled supports my belief of the latter. That said, would she be wise enough to remember if she were to encounter a porcupine again? We like to believe her poodle smarts did kick in. We walked away, unnerved but–thankfully–also unquilled.

An hour or so later, we snubbed our noses at the mushroom section in Guido’s, boycotting the fungi that had eluded us. I’d had a hankering for onion soup, anyway, so . we bought two large onions, then picked up a baguette from Bizalions (the best) and put the sage to good use in this yummy soup.

Mushroom-less Onion Soup*

  • 2 large onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 4 c beef broth
  • 1/4 cup fresh sage, loosely chopped
  • 3 T sherry
  • 4 small bits of Gouda, or your favorite hard cheese
  • 1 baguette* (While not being a classic “gratinee,” we do enjoy having a good baguette handy for dunking. Preferably, heated so it’s nice a crisp)
  • parmesan for garnish

Heat olive oil in Dutch oven, then add onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until translucent but not caramelized. Add sage and stir for a minute or so, then add beef broth and sherry. Add cheese, then let simmer for 20 minutes.  Before serving, grate some parmesan onto each bowl, then serve with a warm, crispy baguette.

 

Morels might not be at Thousand Acre Swamp, but they’re certainly popping up everywhere else. Our friends Anna and Fred across the New York border over in Gallatin posted these over the weekend. I asked Anna how she’s been cooking with the fungi and she sent me this:

Anna’s Morels* Flambe
  • a batch of morels
  • 2 shallots or ramps, finely chopped
  • 4 T butter
  • 2 or 3 T of armagnac or sherry
  • 1 cup heavy cream
Cut the morels in 2 and check for critters. Depending on size, you can quarter them or slice them but no smaller than 1 inch. Sizzle butter and shallots without browning them. The morels will render water, so let it evaporate while continuing to cook. About ten minutes should do it. Flambe them with armagnac or sherry. Next pour in the heavy cream, just barely covering them.  Reduce heat so cream doesn’t overheat, then let cream reduce until it turns a golden hue (no more than 5-7mn.) Serve over a nice juicy steak…with a lalande pomerol.
*When picking fresh mushrooms, it’s important to prep them before cooking. They may have slugs (yuck!) and other critters.  You don’t want to use water if you don’t have to, and, if freshly picked, you can use a damp paper towel to rub off any dirt.

 

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Jane was executive beauty director at W Magazine for 16 years. When she is not writing beauty articles, she's likely either hiking with her husband and dog, Remy, or in her kitchen, frauding (new verb) her way around a fancy recipe, a home decoration or a highbrow dinner party conversation of which she knows nothing about. In other words, she nods a lot and googles a lot later.

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