Monday, April 19, 2010

Mushrooms Not of the Morel Kind

The signs were good. It had been warm, we had some moisture and though a little on the early side, rumors of morel finds were flashing across the coconut phone. So Little Abbey and I set off down the back roads to the family farm in search of that elusive but very tasty spore the morel.

The entire forty mile journey down to the farm we found scenes like the one above, cars pulled off to the side of the road or just off in farm field entrances. The vehicles all shared one common feature, the air of having been abandoned, their owners no where to be found. Morel season here in Iowa or as I like to call it, the Mushroom Madness is in full swing which means that during the daylight hours, the streets of all rural towns, the homes of all our rural residents are abandoned. Many a stranger has come across this and automatically assumed that they arrived many years after an epidemic of some sort must have wiped every human off the face of this world. I know I would if there was nary a soul to be seen and scores of abandoned vehicles lining the roads.

We picked up Grandma and after saying hello to Grandpa who was planting corn, we drove down to our favorite spot. I could tell you where but then I would have to kill you and that really hurts blog readership so I'll just leave it at that. We promptly abandoned our car and marched off into the woods, never to be scene again to passersby, at least until we returned.

Inside the trees, the ground was perfect for morels. It has a spongy feeling of plenty of past moisture and just the right amount of grass, plants, and shrubbery growing over it. All signs pointed to a bumper crop just waiting to be found. I could practically smell them. We slowly worked our way towards our spore hunting grounds with heads down scanning for new areas. The tree tops could have been a neon orange and we wouldn't have notices. Occasionally I did glance around to keep tabs on my bearings towards the next Mushroom Machine. For new people to my blog, a Mushroom Machine is a recently deceased elm tree which produces a chemical in its death throes that spurs the production of morel mushrooms in such numbers, one can quickly be overwhelmed. I once found a small grove of these trees and found a site that I hope to see again someday but probably never will, a forest floor paved in morels as far as I could see. It took me several hours of picking all the while giggling like a little school girl and furtively glancing over my shoulder from time to time looking for someone who might spot me which would force me to murder them to keep the secret, before I finally picked the last mushroom and started hauling all my sacks, coats, shirt made into a bag, etc. out to the vehicle to take them home. It was a day which I will fondly remember here on this blog about every couple years or so.

But back to this past weekend. I wandered time and again past the prime breeding grounds of morel mushrooms and more than one mushroom machine and saw nary a mushroom. In fact, it took a full hour of searching before I found the first mushroom and it wasn't of the morel kind. See the picture below. I'm disappointed. I'm starving for a morel sandwich. Worst of all, the forecast is calling for a lack of precipitation and cooler temperatures which may put the kabosh on mushroom season. Even worse, next weekend is not looking like I will get a chance to head out to the timber with all the other residents of southeast Iowa. I feel a sick day during the middle of the week coming on. Oh yeah, I got the mushroom madness is a big, spongy, slightly earth flavored but really good fried with a bit of Parmesan cheese kind of way...


R. Sherman said...

Years ago, Dutch Elm disease but the kabosh on elm trees around here. Consequently, mushroom machines are few and far between. You're very, very lucky.


sage said...

May your luck change. Like Randall mention, the Dutch Elm disease has also done in many elms in our area (I wonder if that means fewer morels in the future?) I don't get into the hunting of them, but love their taste.

Ed said...

R. Sherman and Sage - Although Dutch Elm disease is rampant around here too, there are still plenty of young elm trees growing, mostly in draws. They seem to grow for fifteen or twenty years before they get the Dutch Elm disease and die leaving behind a Mushroom Machine for the next two or three years until the toxins they produce dry up altogether. So in the end, every draw around here is almost a rotating crop of dying elm trees.

Ron said...

Sounds like one could film a good old-fashioned apocalyptic movie on the streets of small-town Iowa during mushroom season. :)

The only mushroom machine we have is the dead branches of oak and hickory, thrust into the soil when the mighty fall, giving us their bounty of chanterelles eventually. Too early for that though. :(


Beau said...

I haven't even been out yet! Arrgghh... but this week should allow a search or two. I'm surprised you haven't had any yet. We had a brief hot spell, but back to the cool weather now... Good luck!

TC said...

I was just talking to my Dad about morels last night! He was frying some up.

I was hoping to go this weekend at home, but he says he thinks the season there is almost over :( It's tough to tell when the weather on one side of the state hasn't been warm enough until this last weekend to produce any.