By Tom Nauman
Gale Cole of Palmyra, Illinois is the new Illinois State Morel Mushroom Hunting Champion. He snared a total of 110 mushrooms in the two hour event. Conditions at the hunt site were fairly dry, but the overall volume of morels found seemed to be comparable to prior years. A total of 520 people from 15 states competed for the title. The competitors ranged in age from 2 to 84 years old. Other winners were as follows: First Place Men's Division - Michael Osborn of Newark, OH (93 mushrooms); First Place Women's Division - Sara Haynes of Morris, IL (47 mushrooms); Second Place Men's Division - Jim McCombs of McLean, IL (81 mushrooms); Second Place Women's Division - Shirley Bateson of Clinton, IL (31 mushrooms); Largest Morel - Larry Egbert (9.5" tall plus 11" circumfrence = 20.5" total); Smallest Morel - Michael Osborn (approximately 1/4" tall plus 3/8" circumfrence = 5/8" total).
The following question arrived via email. "Could you tell me if there is a way to keep morels fresh until ready to cook and eat? I hope you can help with this question. Thank you very much".
When we bring morels home we sort them into three categories: 1. The cleanest (no bugs) & freshest are the first group. We don't soak or wash them at all. We slice them in half and put them in an open container in the fridge for consumption within a week or two and wash them just prior to eating. Or, we dehydrate them for consumption at a later date. We rehydrate them by soaking them in water for 40 to 60 minutes and then let them drain on a paper towel.
2. If they are clean (no bugs) but starting to show a little age, we treat them as above but will eat them within 2-3 days. Or, we dehydrate them the same as with group one.
3. If there are bugs such as springtails, ants, sow bugs, etc., we slice them in half and soak them in salt water for about a half hour. Then we rinse them several times with cold water and consume them before the other two groups. Once they are soaked, especially in salt water, they deteriorate much more rapidly than those not soaked. If we dehydrate them, we don't wash them and place them on a nylon screen outdoors in the sun. The bugs don't like the bright sun and will vacate the premises. If we use a regular dehydrator the bugs get dehydrated also, so we rinse them several times after rehydrating.
Remember, whenever you want to try eating a mushroom you're not familiar with, check it in at least two field guides. If they say it's edible, try just a nibble, wait 24 hours, and if there are no ill effects then consume larger amounts. All past articles are available http://www.morelmania.com/5Mushrooms/index.html. Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, RR1 - Box 42, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960, Tom@MorelMania.com.