Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Morel Imperative

I know I promised that this posting would be about Proposal Generation—I'll do that tomorrow—but instead of sitting at a keyboard the first morning back after my fortnight in the Tar Heel State, I went morel hunting. I was lucky not to have missed the season all together. Spring is later and wetter than usual in northeast Missouri (some years the all-too-brief morel season is already finished by May 7), and I returned from a four-hour ramble in the woods with two full bread sacks—about 10 lbs, which is a gong load of wild mushrooms. A veritable mycological jackpot! In the understated local argot, I would be said to have found "a couple of messes" (it's a technical term).

While it's always a bit of a mystery what you'll find in the woods—not every year is a good one for fungi—you can at least count on a pleasing panoply of wildflowers in early May—sweet williams, spring beauties, rue anemone, yellow violets, bluebells, and even wild ginger—and I found all those spring regulars today.

Morel hunting is one of the highlights of the agricultural year for me. It means walking the land at the peak of the spring growth surge, and it's one of the ways I can measure what I've learned about where I live. I moved to Sandhill quite a while ago (it'll be 34 years tomorrow), and it has taken me most of that time to learn the half dozen or so best mushroom spots within a reasonable walk of our house.

As the bread sacks steadily filled, I had to be increasingly careful navigating among the wild gooseberries and blackberry vines, whose prickers will rent the fragile plastic totes in a blink, spilling my precious cargo. Though my bags developed holes and would no longer hold water, I arrived back mid-afternoon triumphant, without the loss of a single mushroom.

It is highly satisfying to enter the kitchen after a morel walk carrying the goods in quantity (that feeling of the successful hunt has an incredibly long lineage—I reckon all the way back to caveman days and mastodon haunches). One of my favorite memories about this was stopping off at the FIC trailer about six Mays ago and giving the Office staff a peak of my haul that day. Most of the staff at that time lived at neighboring Dancing Rabbit and therefore wouldn't be at the dinner table when the wildcrafted morels made their culinary appearance. DR member Susan Wright, our generally proper and undemonstrative accountant, took one look at the brimful bowl of prime morels and uncharacteristically blurted, "Oh fuck!" Mushroom lust will do that to people.

I'm the community cook this coming Friday, and today 's success means I've already figured out what to build the main entreé around. The salivating has already begun.

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