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Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Illinois official spring hunting season is here. No, I am not talking about wild turkeys....I am talking about mushroom. THE mushroom....the great MOREL mushroom.
The timing of the spongy fungus' appearance, instead, is the most unusual aspect, with the dry and earliest-ever season last year has been followed this year by one of the latest and wettest in memory.
While the height of the season is typically April, a few can also be found in late March in southern Illinois and the last of the harvest disappears in northern Illinois in early May. Then it's over. This year however, the season is at least two to three weeks behind average, possibly lasting beyond the month of May. So, for the avid 'shroom hunters out there, grab your walking stick, a compass, and a sack and head into the woods to search for this fungal delicacy!
Over the past week I have received numerous phone calls asking about morel prep, storage, and preservation, so I thought this was a timely topic to blog about. So, Ill speak a bit on these topics incase anyone else has similar wonders in the world of mushrooms.
Although many edible species of fungi can be found year-around in Illinois, the morel mushroom is clearly the most popular and sought-after of all wild mushrooms in the state. These mushrooms have a distinctive appearance – a long, tube-shaped stem topped by a honeycomb-pitted cone. These should be easily distinguishable; however, you can never be too safe! There are roughly 250 species of wild mushrooms that can cause illness or death. If you ingest one of these dangerous counterparts, you may experience mild stomachache to severe physical distress-including vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and loss of coordination. Notify your doctor immediately if you suspect mushroom poisoning of any kind.
To avoid mushroom poisoning take these safety tips:
- Wrap each type of mushroom separately to avoid cross-contamination between safe and unsafe species.
- Identify every mushroom you collect, and only eat those whose identification is certain. When in doubt, throw it out.
For appropriate storage, maintaining freshness and flavor, refer to these storage tips from University of Alaska Cooperative Extension:
- Wipe mushrooms gently with a damp cloth or soft brush to remove dirt, debris and insects.
- Refrigerate debugged mushrooms between 34– 35°F. Wrap them in a paper bag or waxed paper. Nonporous plastic bags are not the best choice as plastic accelerates mushroom deterioration.
- Do not wash morels before storage. Mushrooms absorb water and the additional water will hasten deterioration. Mushrooms may absorb odors if stored near foods like onions.
- Refrigerated, fresh mushrooms will keep for 2 to 3 days. For longer storage, mushrooms should be frozen or dried.
Not only delicious seasonal treat, but a nutritious one as well! A fat free, cholesterol free, low sodium food, these 'shrooms are also an excellent source of vitamin D, copper and iron. These nutrients aid in calcium retention and energy metabolism in the body, not to mention red blood cell function.
A cup of fresh morel meats contains a little more than 59 g of water, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Calories for a cup of fresh morels total 20. That cup of morels contains about 3.4 g of carbohydrate and 2.1 g of protein.
So many tummy tickling recipes exist for morels. Their flavor pairs well with spring things, like peas, asparagus, spinach, and sweet onions. The most common preparation method for this fungi food is also the simplest: After soaking them in lightly salted water for 10 minutes to remove any insects, simply slice and fry them in melted butter until browned. Another version involves draining the browned mushrooms, dipping them in milk and flour or an egg-milk mixture and cracker crumbs, and frying them.