Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gimme Some Morel or I'll Kick You in the Asparagus!

Hethyr:  My family is originally from central Illinois and some of my earliest memories are of my dad going morel mushroom hunting in the spring.  I’m not sure why I remember it so well… maybe it was his sheer excitement over finding some strange looking little mushrooms.  To me, as a child, they looked liked little brains – I thought they were awesome and I remember that they were the only mushrooms I'd ever really eat as a kid.  After coming home from a day of morel hunting with my uncle and some other guys, Dad could barely wait for Mom to batter and fry them up.

My mom recently told me a story about how my dad found one single morel on their property when they still lived in Illinois.  They searched and searched, but could sadly find no others.  Mom still battered and fried the lonely morel for Dad’s gastronomic pleasure.  It cracks me up to think of one single mushroom on a plate and tortures me to think of how that one little Morchella would have just been a teaser and made me yearn for more.  Poor Dad!

Here's a beautiful morel haiku by John (not my husband)...

Brown wrinkly features
camouflaged in the forest.
SHIT!  I stepped on one!

For many years as Jon (my husband) and I moved around the country, I missed morels each spring but found out within the last few years that they do, in fact, grow in Colorado.  I have yet to actually find any, as the timing is later than I was used to in Illinois.  A couple of years ago, I think one of my friends found some in late June/early July.  That was a late year for almost everything on the Front Range, though.  I’ll be searching again this year and with any luck, will be able to enjoy some freshies, but in the meantime I’ve found some dried morels that have at least partially satisfied my craving. 

Great book, great recipes!
I had been saving one-half ounce of the dried morels for a specific recipe and now that asparagus is here along with spring, I got to put them to use the other night.  A few years ago (before I knew morels grew in Colorado and before I was able to find dried morels), I read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and it contained a recipe for Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding.  Although it involved a bit of preparation, I longed for the day when I could actually try that recipe.  My dream finally came true the other night!  But, as is the story of my life, I didn’t have all of the ingredients that were called for in the recipe so the following is my take on it.  Although I still wish I'd had fresh morels to use, I truly think my recipe turned out better than the original would have.  Not that the original sounded at all bad – if that had been the case, I never would have wanted to try it in the first place!

And as a last little note, I can’t resist telling about my brother-in-law’s comment on Facebook the other day.  Actually, I’ll just post his quote in regards to my little niece, who is one-and-a-half…  “Delle was just handed an asparagus stalk... her natural reaction was to brush her teeth with it.”  Ha ha ha ha ha!  I love it.

Hethyr’s Morel and Asparagus Bread Pudding
Serves 4 to 6
"This is so good!  May I have some morel, please?"
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 ounce dried morels
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup sliced cipollini onions (you could also use spring onion or shallots)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 loaf whole wheat or whole grain bread, cubed and toasted (I used homemade bread but you could easily use store-bought)
  • 4 large (preferably farm-fresh) eggs
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded or crumbled goat cheese with crushed red pepper (if you can’t find it, use plain goat cheese and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes)

1.  In a small dish, pour boiling water over dried morels, cover and let reconstitute for 20 to 30 minutes.  Drain, reserving liquid, and chop mushrooms coarsely.  Set aside. 

2.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Combine mushroom liquid, heavy cream, milk, onions, thyme, salt and pepper in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat.

The elusive, reclusive morel in all of
its reconstituted glory
3.  In a large bowl, pour liquid over breadcrumbs and let sit for about 10-15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed (it’s okay if not all of it gets soaked up).

4.  In a separate large bowl, whisk together eggs, salt and pepper. 

5.  Steam asparagus for 1-2 minutes or until bright green.  Shock by dunking in ice cold water to stop the cooking process.  Set aside.

6.  In a medium skillet, heat butter over medium heat.  Saut√© the chopped morels in butter for 2 minutes.

7.  Combine eggs with breadcrumb mixture, mushrooms, asparagus and 2/3 of the goat cheese.  Pour into a greased 12- x 8-inch glass baking dish and top with remaining cheese.  Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until puffy and golden brown.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Gnawing 'shroom pudding
Tastes like a bowl full of love
Need a cold shower.

Yep, there is no doubt that this dish inspires poetry.  In fact, I believe this was one of the best meals that Hethyr has ever made.  Some of the credit obviously goes to the morels, but the whole combination of flavors is unbelievable.  Actually my mouth is watering profusely just thinking about it.  I think I need to go eat some more right now...

Done.  It was just as good as leftovers as it was fresh.  I'm not really sure that I've ever had morels before this meal, but I think I just officially joined the bandwagon of mushroom-crazy people who search for them in the woods like tiny buried treasures.  I think I could get pretty into it.  After all, there's nothing unpleasant about hiking in the woods, especially around here.  I just need to train myself to look for little brain-things on the ground as I walk instead of spacing out like I normally do.

Will this be the spot where I someday
fertilize a field of morels?
I love the secrecy of the whole morel-hunting game.  Searching online, there are an endless number of posts that brag about the wondrous fields of 'shrooms that were discovered but never the location of the bounty.  A couple of our closest friends wouldn't even tell us where to go last summer after they had just returned from the mountains with bags of morels and stories of hundreds more.  I finally guilted them into at least providing the trail name where they started their hike.  I wonder what would happen if I found and posted the GPS coordinates of every quality morel field I could find out about.  Would I be snuffed out by some crazy syndicate of the mushroom mafia?  Would I be buried in a shallow grave in a grove of aspens on a mountainside so that I might provide fertilizer for future generations of morels?  Who knows?  I guess I'd better play it safe and refrain from the publicity stunt.  But to anyone reading this, please feel free to send me those coordinates anyway.


  1. I remember my dad getting so excited about mushroom hunting in Illinois too. The brown bag he came home with was such a strange thing to get excited about to me as a child, but I think I would be thrilled now as an adult. I even joined the Vancouver Mycological Society chat group when I lived there but never ended up on a foray. I think I've only liked the "fancy" mushrooms as an adult though... I wonder why... is it a taste that our pallette acquires as we enter adulthood like dark chocolate? MMMmmmmm.... regardless, great post... great story!

  2. I sooooo wish there were Morels in Florida, as the hunt is such great fun. There's nothing like a nice hike in the beautiful Spring weather and coming back with a great bounty! Guess I'll have to go 'hunting' on-line (what a buzzkill). :-(

  3. I watched a program once on morel hunting... apparently the best places are in areas where there was a forest fire the previous summer. Head out in spring when the forest starts to come back to life. All of the nutrients which are returned to to the ground from the breakdown of all the vegetation are great for their growth. This may be the only good thing to come from forest fires :)

    Thanks for this recipe... it looks amazing; although I'm pretty sure I'd have to run for 10 miles to work off the calories :P I've only made a sweet bread pudding, but the savory ones sounds even better!

  4. I think we are going to try a little morel hunting this weekend... we'll see what (if anything) we come up with! =)

  5. I had no idea Morels grew out here. Growing up in Kansas, Morels were a delicacy. I'll be sure to head out looking next month.