Found in the spring growing in depilated apple orchards, morels have long been associated with French cuisine, where even pharmacists are trained to identify poisonous mushrooms. —Stefanie Gans
Money well spent
The trick to avoiding doppelganger morels, says outdoor expert Tim MacWelch, is recognizing if the fake-out grows too early or too late in its multi-week season. Mock morels can be deadly—real morels reveal one large empty cavity inside, where falsies have multiple chambers—and learning mushroom foraging takes years of practice. In fact, MacWelch doesn’t even teach mushroom hunting in his Earth Connection edible plants class in Fredericksburg. Instead of challenging nature, check to see if Maple Avenue Market in Vienna carries the fleeting fungi.
“I can’t give you my spot,” says Tarver King. He’s laughing, but he’s also serious. Foragers rarely share their secret jackpot locations, and King, the chef at The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm and a forager for 10 years, will only say he finds morels on his friend’s apple orchard in Winchester. With what King plucks himself, and with what he can bargain for from his well-‘shroomed friends, he’s planning on serving candied morels among other wild spring edibles, including rock sugar grown on licorice roots, candied yacon and marshmallows made from the mallow plant.
Don’t Piss off The Devil
According to German folklore, says culinary historian Cynthia D. Bertelsen, “the devil created the morel because some wrinkled old woman offended him and so he turned her into this mushroom.” In researching for her first book “Mushroom: A Global History,” Bertelsen, an alumna of Virginia Tech, found many cultures tied mushrooms to the evil spirit. Still today, says Bertelsen, “it is very insulting to call a woman a morel in Germany, even a little worse than being called an idiot.”