Wild West Virginia Food - Morel Mushrooms
Dryland fish, hickory chickens, merkels (that's 'miracles' to yankees or people who do not speak with a strong Appalachian dialect), sponge mushroom or just morels, whatever you call them these ascocarps are prized by gourmet cooks throughout the country and are one of the delicacies of West Virginia's wild food buffet. As far as the details of how they grow and appear ...I don't know, well no one really does; they appear to have a symbiotic mycorrhizal relationship with deciduous trees (which means we think they somehow grow with trees such as poplar and oak), but beyond that we are fairly clueless. Good thing we don't need to know how they grow in order to enjoy them. How are they found? If you are patient, enjoy walking through the woods (extremely slow) and staring at the ground until you have a baseball sized knot in the back of your neck, mushroom hunting is for you. It is extremely tedious but relaxing and oh so rewarding when you walk away with a sack of delicious mushrooms. The best places to look are in deciduous forests, especially around poplar trees. What's the best time to find them? That depends on your location and its elevation; around the New River Gorge April through early May is best, head up towards the Gauley River area and you are looking at late April through early June. Now that you have some morels, the way you enjoy them is up to you. Most people saute them in butter with cracked pepper, others batter them in milk and breadcrumbs; the one thing you definitely don't want to do is eat them raw due to some latent toxicity that is removed by thorough cooking. So should you pick some mushrooms for your evening meal on your next spring vacation, well of course we can't sanction that here; you need to learn more about morels and then make your own decision from there. You can still enjoy this local delicacy though, most restaurants get them from local hunters in the spring so keep your eyes on the daily special; last week Gumbos Cajun Restaurant in Fayetteville had a morel burger that was absolutely delicious, so keep your eyes open.