Morchella esculentioides (M. Kuo, Dewsbury, Moncalvo, & S.L. Stephenson)
Edible and very good. Previously known as Morchella esculenta, which recent studies have determined to be strictly European. DNA reveals Morchella cryptica, which is macro- and microscopically indistinguishable, to be a distinct species; it should be expected throughout the Midwest, although it is not as common as Morchella esculentioides.
Morchella esculentioides appears in the spring and early summer. In the eastern U.S. it likes many kinds of forest, with ash trees and dead and dying elms especially preferred. Hardwoods in river bottoms and urban areas, as well as ornamental ashes, apple trees, and places scorched by forest fires, provide welcome homes in the west. Sporting a head that resembles a honeycomb or the aged sponge on a single man’s kitchen sink, M. esculentioides may appear as alone or scattered about, or growing gregariously—to use the insider mycological term—in prolific stands. The mushrooms appear to “smoke” while releasing clouds of spores.
Mushroom hunters prize the rich taste of M. esculentioides in either its yellow or gray variety. The relatively short growing season (two to six weeks) draws enthusiasts and chefs alike into springtime woodlands, and the members of the morel family commonly the target of social mushroom hunts. For those of an entrepreneurial bent, fresh morels can even bring a good price from interested restaurants.
People in Appalachia give morels nicknames like dry land fish, molly moochers, and hickory chickens. Favored dishes include rolling a cut morel in a batter of buttermilk and corn flour for pan frying or creaming morels with onion, pepper, salt, and butter to make gravy. Elsewhere, hunters fry their find in butter with garlic and wine, pair roasted morels with asparagus and leeks, and spill them over scrambled eggs.
Note: raw morels cause stomach upset. If that’s insufficient disincentive to nibble, they also contain insects and dirt. Soak and cook before eating.
The UIP book Mushrooms of the Midwest describes and illustrates over five hundred of the region’s mushroom species.
Authors Michael Kuo and Andrew S. Methven provide identification keys and thorough descriptions. The authors discuss the DNA revolution in mycology and its consequences for classification and identification, as well as the need for well-documented contemporary collections of mushrooms.
Each “Mushroom Monday” get a taste of this unique and beautifully illustrated book here on the UIP blog.
Photo: Michael Kuo