"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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What To Do With A Morel Mother Lode
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

With the spring mushroom season bearing down on Indiana and other Midwestern states, one of the big questions that flits through the heads of  “morelers” revolves around preserving this delicacy for later use. 

Let’s just say that you found the mother lode of morels and have eaten your fill and shared your good fortune with friends. But there still are plastic bags of morels and other containers in the frig. 

Whatcha gonna do with them? 

Morels and many other members of the fungi tribe keep well for a week or two in the frig. But there is nothing more sad and perplexing than finding a container of wild mushrooms that have soured or molded and must be trashed. Morels can be preserved for later use in many ways. They can be dried or frozen, and there are several methods of doing both. 

But before you do anything with morels, they should first be processed (cleaned) as soon as it is convenient after you get them home. The purpose for cleaning morels is the same as it is when you are dealing with other edible plants or the many species of wild game or fish. The product is simply made ready for use, most often on the table as food. 

The first thing I do with morels when I get them home is to place them in a large container in the kitchen sink. I run cold tap water on them and allow them to soak for some time, occasionally adding more cold water to wash foreign matter (including small mites, insects, grass and twigs) out of the container. To bring this about I stir them occasionally with my hand. 

When the morels have soaked for a while, I turn the cold water on again and run it over each morel as I slice them in half from cap to the end of the stem. Once cut in half and rinsed well, I place the morel halves in a strainer to drain excess water. When well drained, I place the morel halves in plastic bags and refrigerate them. 

Taking first things first, we now offer methods of preparing morels for the table. 

My favorite method for cooking morels is to heat up my old iron skillet and melt enough butter to cover its bottom 1/8 (one-eight) inch deep. Olive oil, margarine or any other cooking agent will work, including bacon fryings. 

While this is going on I pulverize a cup of good crackers (I use Keebler Club crackers . . . the crackers in the green box with yellow letters). I mix that 50-50 with all-purpose flour. 

Also, while the skillet is getting hot, I break an egg or two in a shallow bowl (cereal bowl works well), and mix it well with an equal part of milk. 

When the butter sizzles a small cracker crumb, it is time to cook. Dip large mushroom halves individually in the egg/milk mixture, and coat them with the cracker/flour mix. Small mushroom halves can be dipped and coated by the handful to speed the process. 

Place the coated mushroom halves in the skillet and position them so each half will be flat against the bottom of the skillet and exposed to the cooking agent. To achieve this, with a plastic turner I gently press the mushroom halves against the skillet and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. At this point, frying mushrooms should have your undivided attention. When the halves are well browned on the first side, they are turned over and the process is repeated. More of the cooking agent may  (should) be added for the second sides. 

I use several methods of freezing and drying morels for future use, but I prefer freezing if the morels are to be fried when prepared for the table. However, drying morels is a good way to preserve them if they are to be used in scrambled eggs, soups, stews or gravies. 

There are numerous methods of freezing morels, but my favorite is to treat them as though they will be consumed at that time. But I stop halfway on each side, and blot them with paper towel to remove excess cooking agent. Then the morel halves are placed on a cookie sheet and frozen. The bags of frozen halves are wrapped in two or three thicknesses of newspaper and taped tightly to avoid freezer burn. But even with these precautions it is difficult to keep the morels for periods longer than one year. 

When preparing morels frozen in this manner for the table, I just finish the frying process until the halves are well browned on both sides, starting when the halves still are frozen. 

Drying morels for later use is simple for those who have a food dryer.  You just spread the halves out on the trays and plug in the dryer. Morel halves can also be dried by stringing them on a cotton twine with a big needle and suspending them in a warm oven with the door ajar.  Dried morels can be stored for long periods of time in airtight containers, frozen or in cool, dark places.

Click thumbnail image for enlarged view.

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Morels shrink when dried, as these pictures illustrate, but they retain their taste and pleasant odor. 

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from his family.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Scifres Family, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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