Morels Mushrooms Have Arrived!

There were several questions from the previous post about how I eat chickweed, so I'll add the response here, as well in the recent comments section. One way of using chickweed is to gather it, along with dock and henbit and cook it all together with a bit of ham or bacon, just the typical "spring greens" dish. My favorite way of eating chickweed is to pick it young, before it gets tough. I look for the most tender stands and shear it off with scissors. I start with about 6 cups, loosely packed because it cooks down to a very small amount.

Then I wash the chickweed briefly and set it aside to drain. Into a saucepan, I chop up some already cooked bacon, about 3 slices, add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and some chopped onion or scallions and saute those until the onions are tender. I add the chickweed and about a half cup of water and simmer it until tender. I drain off any excess water and sprinkle the greens with 2 or 3 teaspoons of one of the following: apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, white wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar. All that's left is to toss and serve it as a side dish. Corn muffins are especially good with this, so are morel mushrooms.

Speaking of morels, ours have been late here, but neighbors are finding them, and ours are just beginning here. I was thinking as we ate our first "mess" (batch, or meal...in the Ozarks it's a "mess," as in "we had a mess o' greens for supper last night.") that morels are probably my favorite of all foods. In the favorites list, would be turkey and dressing, rhubarb pie, lobster, but probably the number 1 favorite would be morels.

They're good cooked several ways. When Gourmet magazine editors were here for lunch a few years back, I fixed morels a couple of ways for them. One way was to saute morels in butter until tender, then I added shredded Parmesan cheese, tossed that and served them on herb marinated, grilled chicken breasts. I believe the meal they photographed included some fried morels, too, a salad of spring garden greens heavily laced with violets and redbud flowers, a wood sorrel tart, I forget what else. But the centerpiece was the morels.

I supposes everyone who hunts morels, has their favorite way of preparing them. My mother always dipped the mushrooms in beaten egg then rolled them in flour or cornmeal. My friend, Billy Joe, always stuffs and bakes them. Here's my method, the one that is slightly addictive. (And by the way, if you find so many morels you can't eat them all, fix like the following recipe, then instead of cooking them, lay them out on a cookie sheet in the freezer; as soon they are frozen move to plastic storage bags. They'll keep for about 6 months. Take out what you need and cook as normal. It's the best way I've ever found of freezing morels and they taste almost like fresh).

Gather your morels, cut off the tough piece of stem, split the morel in half lengthwise and drop into a bowl of salted water. Soak for about 10 minutes, just to get the ants out, if there any. (Or, the ants taste just like the mushroom, I skip this sometimes, just looking over the mushrooms closely). Drain well.

Have ready a 1 gallon zip plastic bag, filled with 2 cups of cracker meal. Cracker meal is made by putting a sleeve or 2 of saltines in a food processor and pulse-blending until you have a fairly fine meal.

Also have on hand a small bowl of buttermilk. Not other milk, buttermilk, it works best. Pour about 3/4 inch of any light oil (canola, peanut, but not olive) into a small pan or skillet. Heat the oil until a crumb dropped in sizzles and spins. Don't get the oil hot enough to smoke, but enough to give a good sizzle when you drop a crumb in.

Dip several mushrooms in the buttermilk, dropping them one at a time into the plastic bag of cracker meal and shaking the bag. Lay them out on a cutting board, then begin dropping in 4 or 5 at a time in the hot oil. If the oil is too cool, the coating comes off, if it's too hot, the coating will burn before the mushroom cooks. You want the mushrooms to just sizzle around the edges. Continue dipping and coating the mushrooms while the first ones cook. Turn the cooking mushrooms over as soon as the bottom sides turn golden brown and cook about 2 minutes on the reverse side until browned. Drain on a pan or rack, but not on paper towels (which will cause the batter to lose it's crispness on the bottoms). Cook all of the mushrooms and serve while still hot. Get ready to be thankful it's spring.

Also ready now, are redbuds. Throw a handful of the flowers in your salad tonight. All redbuds are edible whether white redbud, 'Forest Pansy' patented redbud - any and all redbuds are good to eat. Redbud trees are cousins of peas, meaning they are a legume, and if you notice as the flowers begin to drop, pea pods appear where the blossoms were. Pick these young peapods when they're less than an inch long - the younger the more tender. Cook by dropping in boiling water, or saute in butter.

But the edible spring flower that may surprise you most, is......drum roll please..... LILACS. Yes, really, lilacs. Most people don't know that lilacs are edible and have wonderful flavor.

My friend, Cathy Wilkinson Barish, author of the out of print book (but still available), Edible Flowers, gave me permission to republish her recipe for Lilac sorbet from that book, in my Sensational Sorbets book (which is not out of print in case you want a copy). Here's Cathy's recipe, and this one keeps well for several weeks in the freezer. I use a Donvier sorbet maker, the kind you keep in the freezer until you're ready to use it, then pour the chilled liquid in, give it a turn of the crank about once a minute and in 15 minutes, you have perfect sorbet. I find Donviers at yard sales often. They're about $60 new, $5 used. They are nothing short of amazing because you can turn any kind of juice into a healthy dessert in mere minutes. Here's Cathy's recipe:

2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup lilac florerts, (flowers removed from the stems), coarsely chopped

Heat water in a stainless or non-aluminum saucepan. Add the sugar and flowers, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Bring liquid to a low boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, strain, discarding flowers and chill in the refrigerator, covered, for 2 hours, or over night. Pour into ice cream maker or sorbet maker and freeze until firm. If not serving immediately, scoop sorbet in scoops on waxed paper covered baking sheet and freeze until firm. Remove from baking sheet and store in zip-plastic bags. Cathy suggests serving this in wine glasses with more lilac flowers scattered over the top.

My Sensational Salsas book also includes my recipe for Lavender-Violet sorbet as well as many more sorbets to make from flowers and herbs. You could have herb and flower sorbets all summer long.

Happy gardening!


Anonymous said...

cant wait to try the recipes....yummers

The PURE Gardener, Inc. said...

yummy, morel mushrooms and lilac sorbet.... Mmmmmmmm

Jeanine Davis said...

Those morels look wonderful!!! Wish we had some on our farm.

Patsy Bell said...

Oh, Jim, when my husband snarled, "are those dandelion leaves in the salad?" I said yes, just be glad you aren't at Jim Longs house today. You would be eating chickweed with henbit. I love hearing about all the wild and natural food you find in the Ozarks.

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Hey dear, this is great and full of wonderful recipes and tips. You are a fountain of...

Sending love and waiting for you to send me some of your morels.


Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island (remember?)

Jim Longs Garden said...

I'm currently in Indianapolis for the Indianapolis Herb Society's "Dilly of a Day" and someone told me she'd stopped at a local market where morels were $50 a pound!

Anonymous said...

very interesting.