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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Treats from the wild

Okay, time for your obligatory disclaimer: never eat anything you find in the wild unless (a) you know exactly what you're doing; or (b) you're with somebody who does. Always, always, always consult an expert before ingesting tasty vittles from the forest floor.

Morels, king of spring edibles
By John Barecki

As we begin to see a consistent spring weather pattern in West Michigan—cool nights, rainfall, warmer days—we can start to keep our eyes peeled for the delicious wild edibles available to us in our lovely selection of forests and parks, namely, the wild leek, the fiddle head of the ostrich fern, and, grandest of all, the morel mushroom.

My girlfriend Rachael has been my teacher in the realm of wild edibles and this being my first year of true foraging I've been amazed at what we've found. We have been searching since that crazy heat wave back in March with no luck outside of the dryad's saddle, which some consider lowly in comparison to the prized morel. The dryad's saddle, also known as the pheasant back because it resembles the bird's feather pattern, is a shelf polypore that grows on dead logs. It has an uncanny scent of cucumber or watermelon rind. We learned to harvest the smaller 2-inch diameter ones for frying up and eating, and the larger ones for using dried in stocks and soups. A lot of foragers dismiss this one because they grow at the same time as the morels, but to Rachel and I, they are not just delicious but a heck of a lot easier to find.

A good day in the forest
Keeping that in mind we set out a few days back to find enough edibles to create a forager's pizza—fungi, leeks, and fiddle head ferns. Finding the Dryad's to be too old and dry I decided to climb some of the hills, because as most stories go "something caught my eye." As I got to the top of the hill, there it was, the first of the many yellow morels that we collected that day, thirty of them altogether. After a small freak out we gathered ourselves and the rest of the ingredients to make the most gourmet pie we have ever eaten. Homemade white sauce, Siberian elm samaras, morels that were fried first for ease of digestion, leeks, garlic, and fiddle heads created this tasty dinner. To top it off we used Phocas cheese from Cowslip Creamery, the cheese makers at Lubbers Family Farm.

After much hiking these last couple months I had just about given up on these delectable forest fruits, morels in particular. But in the end my patience paid off and the reward so far has been awesome. If you are one that is not inclined to look hard enough for these creatures, you can grow your own oyster mushrooms from the kits that we sell at Siciliano's. They take a little over a month to grow and will fruit at least three more times after first harvest (they are quite delicious too). I'll soon be writing about that as well if you're not convinced. Either way everyone should be out and about in the forests and parks we have. It's spring. Enjoy it while it's here!

The morel in its natural state
The morel in a state of transition
The morel in its preferred state,
with leeks and ferns

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