Each spring as a child in Ohio, I would take walks with my grandfather through the woods near his home in search of morel mushrooms. These delectable fungi briefly poke their honeycombed heads out of the ground for a few weeks to spread their spores, usually in early spring, and then return to the earth until the following year. Morels don't take well to cultivation, so the limited time to enjoy the wild treasures charged the activity with the urgency of an Easter egg hunt.
Like most serious morel pickers, my grandfather never disclosed his secret spot to other foragers. But as his initiate, I knew that they thrived in moist areas, near logs or dying trees, once the weather turned warm. We'd fill our paper bags with black morels, Morchella elata, which possess a robust, earthy flavor, as well as yellow ones, Morchella esculenta, which are larger, with a gentler woodsy taste.
Though we waited patiently for the morels to appear, once we had them, we ate them quickly. Our preparation was simple: We'd wash the mushrooms thoroughly, soak them in saltwater for half an hour, halve them, dredge them in flour, fry them in butter, and season them with salt and pepper. (Morels must be eaten cooked; eating them raw can cause an upset stomach.) The meaty, bite-size fritters were addictive. Morels are also wonderful in soups, and impart deep, savory flavor to sauces for everything from pasta to roast chicken.
When I moved away from Ohio, I lost touch with these springtime delicacies. That is, until I discovered Earthy Delights. This purveyor of specialty foods based in DeWitt, Michigan, sells morels gathered by foragers in California, Oregon, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana, and can deliver them within three to four days of picking. Buying morels doesn't replicate the time I spent with my grandfather, but I always think of him when I eat them. Morels cost $29 to $49 per pound. To order, call 800/367-4709 or visit earthy.com.