While hiking last weekend we noticed a few other little groups of people lurking around, all carrying little garbage bags. When people walk my neighborhood with little garbage bags, they are usually accompanied by their dogs, and my mind closes at the thought. But these people didn't have dogs, even though the garbage bags bulged exactly the same way.
We figured they were mushroom hunters. This was confirmed by their unwillingness to engage in conversation and how they hid the bags, as if to say, "Nothing of interest. Look the other way. There are no droids here."
We too had originally come to hunt morel mushrooms, but as neither of us had any experience and we were busy yakking, we lost our purpose until Mr. and Mrs. Hiddenstash reminded us of it. So off into the woods we trudged.
For the longest time, nothing. But it's never a waste of time searching the floor of the woods, as it's full of surprises and treasures.
The first mushroom I found was fat and lobster-orange. I was squealy with excitement. I learned later that it was a gyromitra, and causes 14% of all mushroom-related deaths. I let out a different pitch of squeal as I tossed it.
After an hour or so we had found 600 beer bottles, a dismembered deer skeleton, my Lobster Mushroom of Death, and four morels about as big as my thumb. I also found the photo at right, which bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Harry Reams.
The deer remains were fascinating. He was basically intact, although some of his parts were scattered about like the Wizard of Oz scarecrow after a visit from Flying Monkeys. But a pie-shaped wedge of skull where his brain had once been was missing, cut out cleaner that a butcher's saw could. It was as if aliens had opened him with a laser knife and stolen his deer brain. I looked around ominously, but you can't really watch out for aliens because, really, what do you watch out for? Nevertheless I pulled my hat down a little tighter.
We left the deer. We took the mushrooms. We agreed to fry them up simply, so as to get a good baseline sense for what all this morel mania is about. A little egg, a little flour. Okay, I added a pinch of cayenne, because I put cayenne in everything: Omelets. Salads. Cereal. Baby formula.
We cut the mushrooms in half lengthwise. For all their remarkable, intricate beauty on the outside, morels are surprisingly hollow on the inside. You'd think I would make an analogy here, but I won't.
The tiny 'shrooms made a meager appetizer. They tasted pretty much like fried anything-else. Which is just fine with me.
Just as we finished sampling, my friend Laurie called. "Guess what! We just found a whole bunch of morels growing right in our back yard!"