Morchella esculenta is one of the most desired fungi for consumption. Every spring humans will set out to hunt M. esculenta to make some very tasty meals. Morels are relatively easy to pick out, and are easy to hunt because most of the mushrooms that look like morels are different species of the Genus Morchella and are also edible. There is one exception, however, that looks like the common morel but is extremely dangerous. This mushroom goes by the common name of the false morel. The false morel, or Gyromitra esculenta, looks like the common morel to the untrained eye. The difference between the common and false morel is that the stipe, or stem, of the mushroom is not hollow in the false morel. That is why when cooking morels, it is always smart to cut it in half lengthwise to assure that the stipe is indeed hollow and that an extremely poisonous mushroom is not being cooked.

Photograph by Tom Volk            Because morels are such a desired ingredient for cooking, they are also a hot topic when it comes to learning how to grow morels artificially out of season. A good way to grow them has yet to be found, but during the morel growing season, M. esculenta is being sold for $15-$20 per pound. Many people have tried to find a way to continuously have success growing these morels, but in reality, the growth of the fruiting body is by luck. The fungus must have the proper amount of nutrients, water, the right temperature, as well as having weather that isn’t too harsh on the fungus. There are methods to take in order to have a higher chance for the mushrooms to grow, but even then there is no guaranteed success. The most prominent time for morels to grow is after a forest fire.  After a forest fire, the fungus will grow in the sclerotia stage until the next forest fire, which may not be for another century or so (Leonard 1992).

            Morels are a very common fungus used for culinary purposes. One recipe that uses morels is a morel mushroom, rice, and chicken hot dish. It is very common in the Midwest due to the popularity of morels. Here is the recipe for this dish (Allen, 2013):
·         1 ounce dried morel mushrooms (or substitute other dried mushrooms)
·         4 tablespoons Butter
·         1 cup finely chopped onion
·         1⁄4 cup flour
·         1 1⁄2 cups chicken stock
·         1 cup Heavy Cream
·         salt & pepper to taste
·         2-3 cups Organic Prairie Chicken Breast, cooked, cut into chunks
·         4 cups wild rice, cooked, than measured
·         2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
·         1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
·         3-4 tablespoons Organic Valley Shredded Parmesan (optional)
1. Place mushrooms in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Push the mushrooms under the water and let them soak until they have softened, 2-3 minutes. Drain, rinse mushrooms well with cool water, and chop them coarsely.

2. Heat butter in a saucepan over medium flame. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in chopped mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring often, until onions are translucent, another 4-6 minutes. Reduce heat to low, sprinkle flour over the vegetables, stir well, and cook mixture, stirring often, 4-5 minutes. 

3. Meanwhile, combine chicken stock and cream in a non-metal bowl; microwave until hot, 2-3 minutes. Stir the stock mixture into the vegetables, bring to simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally as mixture thickens, 8-10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper

4. Combine vegetable mixture with chicken, wild rice, parsley and thyme. Add more salt and pepper, if needed. Spread mixture in a buttered casserole dish. It can be covered and refrigerated at this point or baked immediately. 

5. Bake at 350 degrees until heated through, 35-45 minutes. If you’re using Parmesan, sprinkle it over the hot dish after the first 20 minutes of baking time. Serve piping hot.

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Some other interesting fungi to check out....

Psilocybe cubensis, Trametes versicolor, Auricularia aricular-judae, and Schizophyllum commune!