Backcountry Soul Food

By Garrett VeneKlasen, NM Wild’s Northern Conservation Director

There is something magical – even mystical about morels. Of all the wild mushrooms, this is the one that I obsess about most.
Last year due to the extreme drought there were none to be found. My fellow morel-obsessed friends and I sulked about post-season, mourning the absence of our favorite mushroom.
This year I began looking for them in late April. “Mother’s Day Morels” is usually the peak of the season, but this year there were again none to be found. The timing of the spring moisture was right, but it was much cooler than normal in my country. The aspens and oak are just starting to leaf out – several weeks later than normal. Morel deprivation disorder was starting to set in.
This is morel hunting in a nutshell. At least in the southwest, morels can be as elusive and fickle as wild Atlantic salmon.
Normally we find them down in the oaks at about 8-8,500 feet. But if they don’t appear in the oaks and the moisture will hold, you can sometimes find them very late in the season higher up in the aspens and mixed conifers at 9-9,500 feet. 
After a month of searching this is where we found them. There was much rejoicing in our small morel search party yesterday.
Fresh from the mountain and gently sautéed in butter, olive oil and shallots or garlic… Oh my! The rich and complex flavor of a fresh morel is the mountain itself – its damp soils, the complex layers of oak or aspen leaves mixed with moss and conifer. The morel distills and refines these elements to remove their sharp edges, leaving only the purest essence of raw earthy flavor.
All is right in the world now. At least until I open my newsfeed and learn of the world’s latest chaos and disorder…
Warning: please harvest mushrooms safely and responsibly! Seek out resources and guidance from a trained mycologist before eating any wild foraged mushrooms.

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