There are some specific things I look forward to each year. Baked turkey at Christmas; lilacs in bloom in April; the first tomato, the first sweet corn, the first dogwood to bloom, and....morel mushrooms. They are without a doubt, a world class delicacy, up there with truffles, the best Italian cheese, a fine wine and birthday cake when you're 4 years old.
If you have grown up with morels, you know never to ask someone where they found theirs. You know, too, that when someone asks you to hunt with you, or for you to show them where to hunt, as lots of readers did some years back when Gourmet magazine came to the farm to write an article about one of my meals, which included morels, then you know that person doesn't have a clue. One never shares their morel hunting grounds, not until just before they're ready for that last great morel hunt in the sky. Those secret morel hunting places are guarded and passed down from generation to generation. "Where'd ya find your morels?" is a phrase only spoken by an outlander, an outsider, someone who just doesn't have understand the secrecy and mystery involved in morel hunting.
Josh spent early Easter morning out in the pouring rain, in the woods, hunting over one of his favorite morel grounds and came back home with a big ole bag full of morels including some fairly large ones. And, knowing full well, I will be battling gout by tomorrow as penance for my eating, I fixed a batch and indulged myself for tonight's supper. Two things will give me gout with near absolute certainty: a plateful of morel mushrooms, or biscuits and gravy (gout is from the build up of uric acid and relates to kidney function). So I have my prednisone at hand for the middle of the night when my foot will likely feel an elephant stomped on it, but for this eveing, I et a mess o' morels and enjoyed every last crumb.
My recipe for cooking morels is my own concoction and it works for freezing morels as well as cooking them. People who've tasted it, including those fine folks from Gourmet magazine, say it's the best tasting morels they've eaten. I don't fry many things, but morels are best fried to a golden brown, crispy state and eaten immediately.
First split the mushrooms in half and soak in salt water if you need to, to chase out any ants. Drain. Get a little bowl of buttermilk ready. And put a sleeve of saltine crackers in the food processor and process to fine crumbs, then pour those into a zipper baggie. Drop the morels into the buttermilk, then drop into the baggie of cracker crumbs and shake to completely coat the mushrooms. Lay them out on a cutting board. (At this point you could lay them on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for overnight, then bag up in zip bags. They're just like fresh for about 3 months in the freezer and can be taken out and immediately fried).
Heat a pan of cooking oil to hot (peanut or canola oil works best for this; olive oil doesn't do well heated that hot. The oil needs to be hot, not smoking, just good and hot, about 360 degrees. Hot enough that when you drop the mushrooms in, they sizzle and simmer, not losing the breading, but not cooking so fast they burn, either. Drop the mushrooms in, 3 or 4 at a time. It should take about 2 minutes to cook the mushrooms, turning once. Drain and keep hot and cook up the rest. Sometimes I dust the mushrooms with crumbled dried dillweed, but usually, just a tiny salting is all they get. They're crispy on the outside, so tender and sweet on the inside and there just aren't many foods as good. Nothing whatsoever, in the springtime, looks like a morel mushroom, either. Or tastes as good.
I was out photographing some of our plants this week. First, the pawpaws are in bloom. If you look at the photo of the flower, notice in the upper right hand corner, the pollinator is waiting for me to finish interrupting so he can complete his visit to the flowers. Pawpaw's flowers don't have a lot of smell, but to a fly or some wasps, they evidently do. In the fall, where those flowers were, will be a 6 or 8 ounce green potato-looking pawpaw fruit that will taste like a combination of vanilla pudding and banana. That's probably why they're called Ozarks bananas (or Indiana bananas, depending on where you are at the time).
Pawpaws normally grow in the shade in deep woods, in moist valleys and draws between the hills but when I was a kid, my grandmother, who lived in Nevada, MO, in West-Central Missouri, had a next door neighbor with a pawpaw tree in her front yard. It was in full sun and looked a lot like a magnolia tree in shape and leaf size. She had no interest in the fruit so my Grandma and I would go pick pawpaws from under the tree in the fall of the year.
Also in bloom is the wild ginger (Asarum canadense). I'd thought the flowers look an awfully lot like pawpaw blossoms but up close, they don't at all. Just a similar color. I like to go digging wild ginger right before Christmas and clean the roots, then candy them. Wild ginger isn't as hot as Asian ginger but has the same fresh, pleasant gingery taste.