One of my foodie dreams came true this weekend.
Living in this corner of southwest Virginia means I’ve heard a good deal about morels (or “merkles” or Molly Mooch or whatever you want to call them).
But since I’m a “come here” , or country transplant, if you will, I’d never actually tried them.
I know people that have patches of them on their land, but they’re typically eaten by that family and that family only.
You can’t go to a farmer’s market around here and buy them, either. If people have them, they’re eating them themselves so unless you’re friends with someone that knows where to find them, you’re usually out of luck.
Somehow, I found them in a store for sale this weekend. I told Nick about them and we decided we needed to go back to see if they had any left.
Luckily, they had just enough and we totally cleaned them out.
At $36.99 a pound, they’re not cheap. But our purchase weighed in at .26 of a pound, coming out to just over $8. And, after tasting them, I would have paid much more.
The most important thing to know about morels is that you cannot eat them raw – they have extremely dangerous toxins in them, so they must be cooked before consuming.
Also, since they are a fungus, they need to be soaked/cleaned before using.
After consulting Nick’s dad (and making him jealous with our plans for lunch), we came home and got started.
Nick sliced the morels in half and quickly soaked them in salt water, making sure to get out the dirt and bugs that mushrooms tend to carry.
While those were being cleaned, we heated up butter in our cast iron pan.
For this type of recipe, you really do need a cast iron pan. It adds a depth of flavor that can’t be recreated or achieved in a non-stick pan. It’s even better if that cast iron pan is one that belonged to your grandmother, who used to cook morels in the very pan you’re using.
You also need butter. A lot of butter.
And flour. And egg.
And maybe a little more butter.
Nick’s Grandma Lucy was apparently quite good at spotting morels in the woods. I’ve heard from both Nick and his parents that she could be riding through on horseback and point them out on the ground without even leaving her saddle.
While I’ve seen many different recipes that call for morels, the most popular way of eating them is to simply dip them in egg and flour and fry them in butter until golden brown.
This was the only way Nick had ever had them, so we went with the suggestions of Nick’s mom and dad and our neighbor, Clayt.
Slice, soak, batter, fry.
When I tried putting this post together the other day, I had no words.
Artery clogging or not…I couldn’t stop eating. Sometimes, you just need a lot of butter – and this is one of those times.
The crust is crispy, salty, and sweet, all at the same time. Rich from the butter, but not greasy.
The morel, melting in the middle of the crunchy shell, was something I didn’t expect.
I love mushrooms, but morels are something all their own.
Woodsy and earthy, but with a mellow and subtle flavor, these fried morels left me speechless. Each morel simply melted into a creamy and buttery bite, leaving the batter to hold it together just long enough for you to get it in your mouth and start reaching for another.
Outside of the “mmms” and “yums” coming from both of us, we didn’t need to say anything else.
Although Nick did say one thing that sums up what we were looking for when cooking them: “It’s like I’m at grandma’s house”.
I now feel like I really belong here: I’ve had merkels. I may not know where to find them just yet, but we know how to cook them.
Being able to enjoy something that has such a history in this area was something I’d been hoping for since I first heard about them. And I was not disappointed.
I love eating foods that are tied to the land, legends in their own right. Morels only grow in certain conditions which is why the price tag is so much higher than any other mushroom.
They’re more expensive because they are still real wild mushrooms. They are not farmed or grown in controlled environments.
To find these, you’ve got to put on your boots, grab a mesh bag, and head out looking for them. You may take a few trips and come back empty handed.
when you find them. Send them to me?
And if eating them wasn’t enough, our house smelled like butter for the rest of the day.
I’m pretty sure Grandma Lucy would have been proud of us: eating every last bit of fried batter on the plate, licking the last tastes off of our glistening fingertips, savoring each fried morel one at a time…hoping that eating them slowly would make them last just a bit longer.