Here at 4100 ft elevation we are just beginning to see the annual flush of morels (they’ve been popping up for weeks down in the river valleys). We are fortunate enough to have some pretty good hunting (and believe me it is hunting) spots right near our home, so we don’t have to go far and they tend to show themselves in the same areas year after year.
Around these parts, and I believe pretty much any where they are abundant, morel hunting is a favorite pastime. One reason I think they are so popular is the ease of identification. There isn’t really any other mushroom that is like the morel. Sure the false-morel is out there, but it is really pretty simple to distinguish from a true morel. A real morel will be hollow on the inside when you cut it open, also in my experience the false-morel is pretty easy to detect just by looking at them. Anyway, morel patches can be quite prolific and you may find yourself with too many to eat fresh (always cook your morels before you eat them). So what to do with that bounty?
We’ve had really good success sun drying our abundance here on the Traditional Catholic Homestead. The process is really quite simple: soak the caps in a saltwater solution to drive out any unwelcome wildlife (optional), pat dry, and set them out in a sunny location on a lined(news print or parchment paper) tray one layer deep. You should go out and stir them around every few hours so they dry evenly, and you might want to place a screen of some sort over the tray to keep unwelcome visitors out.
Even in our relatively cool area the mushrooms have dried completely in a couple days (bring them in at night if you get morning dew or rain is in the forecast). They will last for several months in an airtight container. This is an extremely effective and low energy way to enjoy this early spring abundance year round. Sun drying mushrooms is also said to increase their level of vitamin D2. While not nearly as persistent as animal based D3 in the human body it is quite healthful and one of the best sources for vitamin D outside of the animal kingdom. Vitamin D can be quite hard to come by in the dreary days of winter.
To use your dried mushrooms simply rehydrate in a couple cups of warm water for an hour or so and you are ready to go. Be sure to keep the water that you used to bring these little beauties back to life, it makes a fine mushroom broth that you can substitute into your recipes in place of other liquids for added flavor and nutrition. These dried mushrooms go perfectly in pasta dishes, soups and stews, on pizzas, or even breaded and sautéed in butter.
A friend is even going to experiment with preserving the dried caps in olive oil and spices like a sun dried tomato. Stored this way I would image you could maintain their useful life even longer (although they don’t seem to last that long around here anyway). Fresh morels can also be frozen or canned, but you lose some of the potential health benefits and both those methods require quite a bit more labor and energy. I’ll stick with the free dehydrator God has provided, thank you very much. If you have even more than you want to dry you can attempt to propagate more morels with a morel spore slurry.
I’ve added some links to more in depth information on the health benefits, storage techniques, and recipes here: