How to Preserve Wild Morel Mushrooms
What Is a Morel Mushroom, Anyway?
Many people have never heard of the morel mushroom, so I would like to give you a brief background on this delicious fungal creature. Mind you, my research has not gone in depth because I would much rather hunt for these wonderful little morsels than read about them. Still, here are a few things of interest about morels.
Where and How They Grow
- They are found in the spring across the USA and also in Europe.
- They seem to literally pop up from the ground after a spring rain.
- Morels are most often found in the woods, but I have found them in unattended fields where cattle are grazing and along the roadside.
- They do not seem to continue growing after they sprout up.
- Morels have not been successfully cultivated, though many people have tried and are still trying.
- They range in size from very tiny to the size of a soda can.
- They range in color from a light tan to a dark grey.
- Morels look like a sponge or a corn cob that has dried.
- Morels should NEVER be eaten raw.
- They are not closely related to other mushrooms; they're more like a truffle.
- Morels have a taste that is somewhat nutty or smokey but very delicate in flavor.
- There is no other food that I have experienced eating that has the flavor of a morel mushroom.
Three Ways to Preserve Your Excess Find
Morels can be dried and used for cooking in soups, stews and gravies. This is probably the easiest thing you can do if you have more mushrooms than you can eat. My aunt told me this was how her family use to keep them through the year when she was a youngster in Southern Indiana:
- They would thread each mushroom on a piece of heavy thread using a sewing needle and piercing through the stem. (I suggest not making the string more than 18" as the weight of the upper mushrooms will crush the first ones on the thread.)
- Then, they'd just hang them up in an airy place to dry. An enclosed porch is an ideal place, but it takes about 4 weeks to dry good.
- Then the mushrooms can be sealed into airtight containers and stored.
Freezing: Method 1
Some people put the mushrooms in plastic 1/2-gallon containers and fill them to cover with water. Then they freeze the entire container with a lid on it. I have seen this done in Missouri quite often. I find that the mushrooms are just too mushy after being frozen in water. It does work, but they're not as good as fresh picked and cooked.
Freezing: Method 2
My experimenting has lead me to store the excess mushrooms just as if I were going to cook them. I wash them, dip them, roll them, and then—instead of cooking—I freeze them.
How I Fix Morel Mushrooms to Eat and Store
Step 1: Soak and Rinse
First thing is to rinse the mushrooms real good. They usually have sand or dirt on them and might have a few bugs to boot.
- I remove the dirt ball from the stem with a sharp knife and put them in a bowl of very cold water to which I have added about a teaspoon of salt. I like to let them soak overnight in the fridge.
- The next day, I carefully rinse them in clean cold water to remove the saltwater and ant debris.
Step 2: Cut
Next I cut the mushrooms up. The small ones can be split from top to bottom, and the very large ones can be quartered or cut into bite-size pieces. I put them on a paper towel to drain real good.
Step 3: Batter
- For a batter, I mix an egg and about 1/4 cup of milk with a dash of salt.
- I dip the drained mushrooms into the egg mixture until well-coated.
- I let the excess egg mixture drip off of the mushrooms and then carefully toss them in a bag of flour until they are evenly coated. Now they are ready to cook or freeze.
Step 4: Cook
Most people cook the mushrooms in a frying pan in butter until they are golden, turning to cook each side. This is very good but also very rich.
They can also be fried in a deep fryer using a healthy oil that has a less oily taste such as canola or whatever you prefer. Morels have a delicate flavor, so it is wise to avoid heavy olive oil.
I know that when we cook up a mess of shrooms, we cook and eat as we go, and it is a beer-drinking mushroom party. Eat until you pop is the agenda. Some people have suggested to me that drinking and eating these mushrooms is not a good combination due to chemical reactions between the mushrooms and alcohol. This could be true, but I personally have never had a bad experience.
Step 5: Freeze the Leftovers
When we have eaten our fill, I just finish preparing all that is left over and lay them out on a metal cookie sheet to flash-freeze.
- Place the dipped and rolled mushrooms on the sheet so that they do not touch, in a single layer.
- Then pop them in the freezer for about an hour or two.
- When they are frozen solid, they can be transferred to a freezer box. I use a flat container with a tight-fitting lid. You can layer them up by placing a piece of waxed paper between the layers.
- Keep in the freezer for up to a year.
I tell you from experience that when you fry them up, you will think they were fresh-picked. Do not thaw them out; just get your skillet ready and drop them in the hot skillet or a deep fryer. Great eating!