In an Easter re-do (a bout of pneumonia thwarted our first attempt), this family of four crammed into a minivan and hustled four-plus hours to my mother-in-law’s in northern Michigan. We arrived late and promptly crashed into the beds my sweet MIL had readied for us.
The next morning, she told us to dress warm, as she planned to usher us into her 60 wooded acres for a mushroom hunt.
A what? But, my PJs…my Barbara Walters autobiography…
Still, I downed my coffee, donned my muck-boots, and the five of us traipsed into the great forest in search of tiny fungi.
We weren’t searching for just any mushroom. We hunted the elusive morelmushroom. Revered for their subtle, earthy flavor and delicate texture, I’m told morels fetch anywhere from $30 to $75 dollars per pound. This fact did not seem to impress my children. Or me, evidently, since morels grew freely throughout the centennial farmland on which I was raised. We mowed them down. Oops.
Into the woods we shuffled, sandy-eyed and slightly confused, as my MIL marched on. “I’ve got places marked,” she told us. We followed like lemmings until she stopped and issued a series of instructions. “You need to find a stick.” “Get close to the ground.” “Fan out.” “You have to really look.“ “Watch where you walk.”
The morels are gray and brown. So is the forest. This did not bode well for us. My husband dropped to hands-and-knees, his face hovered inches from the ground. I wandered and tried my best to mimic the movements of a seasoned mushroom hunter. My eight year-old began to suspect that we were playing some big trick.
Then, “I see one!” My husband peered in triumph into a brownish tuft.
“Where! Show me!”
Sure enough, a small, striated morel poked up from the moss and crisped leaves. We all stared at the earthy treasure. “Stay there,” my MIL advised. “Where there’s one, there will be more.” She was right. My husband harvested his find and then some. By the way, harvesting requires a gentle pinch of the stem. Never pluck, as the idea is to leave a remnant and encourage future growth.
With renewed vigor, we redoubled our efforts. Soon, shouts of glee rang through the trees. We spent the morning scouring and harvesting, laughing and competing. We traded stories as we hunted and, when we’d exhausted our crop, we moved on to other treasures. Tiny purple-and-white lilies dotted the ground like confetti. We found fire-engine red (a danger color, my 11 year-old informed us), bowl shaped mushrooms. We munched on wild leeks. I screamed as a feral forest beast (read: chipmunk) raced past me.
Finally, we hiked out of the forest and into the late-morning sun, dust-covered and content. We stopped to inspect a silver-clear pond lined with alien pods – salamander eggs, we’d later learn.
Our combined efforts yielded us about a pound-and-a-half of morels, and my sweet MIL later rewarded us with hot bowls of homemade cream-of-morel soup.
The real reward, though, was that I remembered how we need more of this. More time to watch my daughter’s round face light up as she finds another morel; to listen to my son regale us with his latest science discoveries; to hear my MIL teach and tell stories of old, to hold my husband’s hand.
To forget the world with the ones I love most and smell the earth and feel the forest breeze swirl around my neck.
I remembered that a morning in the woods bestows peace and renewal better than almost anything.
Want to learn more about morels? Check out this GRIT article by Lois Hoffman.
Oh, and then you could try this morel bisque recipe – although I hear they’re just as divine sautéed in a little garlic butter.