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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Foraging for Morels in Elk River

It was about mid-May when my friend finally said: It's time to go foraging!

I'd been asking repeatedly when we could go hunting for morels, which grow locally around the inland Northwest. She kept telling me that it had to be above freezing at night, but not too hot during the day. We hit that sweet spot a few weeks into May, and packed up a few cars with friends and dogs and supplies on the first nice Sunday.

The two-hour drive to Elk River, Idaho gave me time to think and reflect. In New York, morels were among the most coveted and rare items on a menu. We'd had them (and by "them" I mean two, cut in half, or maybe it was just one big one) with trout at Recette, and I think we found them on the menu at Dressler, too... maybe with that giant pork chop they used to have? Anyway, we used to think ourselves lucky to have access to that special fungi, and to take a day to forage it yourself -- isn't that the Brooklyn foodie dream? I mean, anyone can eat a mushroom soaked in butter at a city restaurant and nod approvingly, but not many can say they've strapped on their boots, rolled up their sleeves and found some themselves. 

Recette's Fancypants Trout w/ Exactly 3 Morel Morsels

We pulled into the secret woodsy area that I was threatened with my life not to share. And then we let the dogs loose to channel their inner truffle pig and be our mushroom muses. Only Honey Badger the corgi actually used her sniffer to actually find us any, but the rest of the pups were good and stayed close as we spread out.

It was a little slow finding the first morels, but we stuck to the rule: Look for lady slipper flowers and morels typically grow nearby. This was usually near a big tree, where the ground was still a little wet. At first, we would shriek with excitement when we found one. And then it got quieter as we secretly filled up our little laundry bags with as many as we could find. They seemed to be everywhere once we moved past an area that had obviously already been picked over. I was overwhelmed by the abundance.

After a few hours, we were all exhausted and hungry. So we headed into town and got huckleberry ice cream at the general store. TripAdvisor says it is world famous, but of course that's the only site that you can find that it even exists. They don't do much of a Web presence out here. But after hearing about it the old fashioned way, I was excited to get a giant cone and sit out on a bench enjoying the sun.

When we got home, it took a long time to cut, clean, soak and store our morels. The rest of the week there were sauteed morels, morel omelettes, morels with trout as a replication of our New York days past. But that night I made something to truly celebrate our hard work: a risotto! We bought a few scallops from the store to add to the asparagus and morel rice that I stirred constantly in chicken broth for 45 minutes. It was worth every stir. Having morels in this sort of homemade luxury made me scoff at our old ways of overpriced stinginess.

I'm not saying I'm a country girl now and won't move back to the city eventually. But a day like May 17? It changed my perspective in a haunting way that I can't shake. Where will we end up living, when we can finally decide for ourselves again? I'm not certain anymore. But in the meantime there will be morels in the freezer that I can thaw out at any time, and remember what I've learned.

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