With morels over the hill into northern Indiana and Michigan, it may
seem futile to go to the woods--and other outdoor spots-- in central and
southern parts of the state. Nothing could be further from the truth.
To enumerate all of the possibilities that the post-morel outdoor scene
offers would be next to impossible, but two fungus species (possibly several
others) and the old reliable poke weed can make a trip to Mother Nature's
burgeoning larder right pleasant--the more so when you prepare them for
Your reporter may be a little like the mule whose attention the farmer
could get only by blasting him between the eyes with a two-by-four.
Be that as it may, one day last week toward the end of an unproductive
morel hunt, I found myself eyeball-to-eyeball with a beautiful nest of
oyster mushrooms (I call them hickory jacks). They were growing from the
side of a dead yellow poplar (tulip tree) at ground level.
I have always thought of hickory jacks as a late-summer/fall/winter
fungi. This made finding them in the spring more than somewhat unusual,
I thought. Unusual enough to focus on them with my camera.
While focusing on the hickories, I noted something strange in the background.
Lowering the camera for a better look, saw and picked (in that order)
the biggest yellow morel of the season. It was getting old, but still edible.
Before that day was done both the hickories and the morel had been "cleaned"
at my kitchen sink and took their place in the same plastic bag in my frig
. . . waiting their turn in the old iron skillet.
Although I have never thought of hickories as a spring windfall, I take
whatever Mother Nature offers . . . whenever. I considered the hickories
a strange quirk of nature--a one shot affair.
But a day or so later I found an e-mail on my computer from a web page
user (from Ohio, as I recall) which indicated that this outdoors person
regularly finds hickories from springtime on. Unfortunately, my house cat
propensities took over soon thereafter and I lost the e-mail which is floating
around out there some place in cyberland waiting vainly to be answered.
The hickories, as you probably have read in this column, or on this
website, grow on trees, both dead and alive, although it seems to prefer
the former. They tend to grow in clusters, and often are gray on top, with
very short or without stems. Gills (on the underside of the caps) are white
and run from the outer perimeter of the caps to the point where the mushroom
(or the short stem) grows out of the wood. Although most of the hickories
I find are light gray on top, they may be any color from dark brown to
When I have cleaned hickories in cold, running water, I gently wring
out excess water, slice them into strips, and fry them much as I fry morels
or fish filets. However, they may be cooked in many ways . . . in a great
variety of dishes.
Dryad Saddle, which makes most viewers think of tractor seats, will
be found in profusion now. Smaller mushrooms (say those six or eight inches
across) are best for eating because this fungus seems to get tougher as
it gets bigger. Under good conditions this mushroom gets very big.
Dryad Saddle, a polypore shelf, grows on the sides of dead trees, but
it may occur on any dead wood. If there are doubts about its identity,
note the thin, sponge-like surface on the underside instead of gills.
Dryad Saddle will rate far down most outdoorsmen's edible list, but
if sliced in finger-size strips and the sponge-like gills are cut away,
it can be sautéed to resemble French fried potatoes. The white "meat"
somewhat resembles that of hen-of-the-woods in texture, but falls far shy
in taste. Still, it is better than no mushrooms.
At this time, the top palate tickler of the outdoors for my money is
fried poke weed shoots which have been present in the southern third of
the state for some two weeks, and now are showing strong growth in the
central part of the state.
Poke shoots, and their culinary applications, have been the subject
of many of my other columns and web page offerings in recent years.
A nice feature of harvesting poke shoots at this time of year lies in
the fact that you're the harvest will not adversely affect the plant. It
is, as a matter of fact, a little like waving a red flag at a mean bull.
Harvest activities seem to make the tubers angry, and they send up more
shoots to replace the lost souls.
To capsulize it, poke weed recurs from tubers each year. This means,
of course, that if you find the old white or cream-colored (or even discolored)
stalks from the previous year, the new growth will be along soon. I cut
the short shoots (four to six inches is ideal) off at ground level, wash
them thoroughly in cold tap water while stripping off leaves, parboil the
stalks to semi-tenderness, and fry them just as I would prepare morels.
The stalks may be split lengthwise after parboiling.
Little wonder that fried poke shoots are called poor man's morel in
and new growth of poke weed--view
photo here. The old growth from previous years will pinpoint the
two pieces illustrate how the spongelike pores cover the white meat of
the Dryad Saddle cap--view
photo here. Cut the spongelike pores away and discard them before
cutting the white meat into strips for the skillet . . . olive oil is a
good cooking agent.