Early Spring Fungi: Elusive Morels!
True Morels (Morchella spp.) are choice edible mushrooms that are notoriously elusive here on the Island. Local reports of Morels often have the mythical air of Bigfoot sightings. Confirmed locations are rare, and closely guarded secrets. Even so, my goal this year was to find a wild PEI Morel, and here it is (Photo 1)!
I would not have found this without help. Much of my free time this Spring was spent searching every publicly accessible site I could think of that hosted Apples, Ash, Elm, Oak, or Poplar: species traditionally associated with Morels. No luck. Then, last week, a friend sent me a photo. To be honest, I thought it was a prank but I had to check it out. And there – under an Apple tree on private land (where I would never have been) – were four beautiful Black Morels! The landowner generously gave me permission to take one, which I did.
True Morels are distinctive mushrooms that don’t resemble False Morels at all, in my opinion (check out the separate post on False Morels in this blog). The taxonomy of True Morels is a subject of debate, and so I just stick to the three basic groups: Black Morels, Yellow Morels, and Half-Free Morels. Black Morels, like the one shown in Photo 1, have dark ridges and paler pits. Yellow Morels have pale ridges and darker pits. Half-free Morels look quite different from either Black or Yellow, with a small cap on top of a long stem.
Morels are renowned for their flavor, and I can now confirm that the hype is justified. The mushroom itself feels dense and heavy, and it smells wonderful – a bit like the surface of good quality camembert cheese. When cut open, it’s hollow inside (Photo 2). I took a simple approach to preparing my treasure, quartering and frying it in butter (Photo 3). The flavour was outstanding: mild, but very rich and a bit nutty. The texture was also excellent, staying firm and gaining a beautiful golden brown (almost caramelized) crust (Photo 4).
I’m grateful to have gotten to not only see but also taste this native fungus. In the days since finding it, I’ve checked literally hundreds of Apple trees in the same type of habitat and the same region of PEI but found nothing. The Morel season is short and nearly over for another year. But I’ll be making Morel hunting a part of my annual spring activity, hoping to find more of this delicious part of PEI untamed!