"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Morels: True or False?
Copyright © 2009 by Bill Scifres

So the famed April First is knocking at our door and that signals Greenup Time, which brings thoughts of morel mushrooms and consuming them.

But first of all, I would point out that the greenup is going to be with us before the other smilemakers . . . as a matter of fact, it is starting as I peck the keys of my beat-up old computer.

For “lo these many years” (to give this column the touch of antiquity), I have written a few dozen times that neophyte mushroom hunters MUST know what they are eating before they consume any mushroom. Some are deadly poisonous; others merely make you sicker than the proverbial dog.

Before I take the next breath, I point out that there is no way a person with reasonable knowledge can mistake a morel for a false morel because they do not look alike. The morel cap is pitted; the false morel cap is not pitted; it has a smooth but wrinkled surface, somewhat resembling the brain.

At this point, I might add that I have been hunting and picking morels since I was a boy, and I have never seen a false morel, nor do I know anyone who has. 

Every spring I do find the barn red elephant ear (a k a pig’s ear), and in days gone by I have eaten them. Many people do not eat them (I now adhere to that category), but some people declare them good chow. They may reach a size as big, or bigger, than a gallon paint bucket. Most are less than six inches tall.

There is a fairly large family of so-called spearheads (known also by several other names) that can be divided into two classes: those with stem (stipe) and cap joined at the apex of the cap, and those with cap and stem joined halfway to the peripheral border of the cap. I tend to shy away from mushrooms of both groups, even though they do have pitted caps. These mushrooms have a hollow, white stem (somewhat like the true morels) but their stems are “mealy” feeling and usually very brittle.

I once returned home from a mushroom hunt with a big bag of spearheads. Alone, and hungry as a black snake, to sate my craving for food, I fried a skillet of the spearheads and ate them all without other foods. In an hour I was nervous as a cat in a fish market.

I have since given these mushrooms a wide berth, but if they are real fresh I bring them in for friends who swear by their edibility. 

As for the true morels, the neophyte hunter (I still follow this rule occasionally) should take a good look at the perimeter of the cap. That is where cap and stem are joined.

I am assuming that in the “cleaning” process, morels are split lengthwise (stems, too) and soaked for a spell in cool water. Run more water a few times to eliminate insects and mites in caps and stems. Stems are fried, too, and as tasty as caps.

When I worked for a large daily newspaper, many telephone callers asked if morels were edible if they contained insects and mites. The answer was yes.

One evening a caller asked the big question about mites. I gave him my standard answer, but the phone grew silent and I could hear him say: “Hey, Mildred . . . has the trash man been past already?” Mildred replied: “Yes!”

The phone still dead, the guy said under his breath . . . “ XXX-XXXX-XX! . . . “ CLICK!

As for frying morels, I first make a mixture of good crackers (I am finding that ordinary saltines work well), and flour in equal parts. Cornmeal can be an optional.

In a cereal bowl (shallow sides), I mix egg and milk in equal parts.

I heat iron skillet with one-sixteenth inch of cooking oil (a little butter or margarine can be added). When a cracker crumb sizzles a bit (not smoking hot) morel halves may be dipped in milk/egg mix, rolled thoroughly in cracker crumb mix, and placed in a single layer in bottom of skillet. While frying, the halves should be pressed gently against bottom of skillet until golden brown on cooking side. At this point more cooking oil should be added and all mushroom pieces turned to brown second side.

Pressing morel pieces against skillet’s bottom assures each half, or piece, of morel is exposed to cooking agent and heat.

Another rule of thumb that I think paramount to new mushroom aficionados is to trust nobody’s judgment on mushroom edibility unless you know that he knows. When you are certain it is edible . . . dead certain . . . eat a small amount with other foods. Go slowly with it . . . and other foods . . . before you dine big time. 

 Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

truemorel.jpg (12411 bytes)
falsemorel.jpg (20697 bytes)
True Morel
False Morel

 There is no way the true morel and false morel can be confused. 

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

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