By Terrie Ortwein
Pictured Left: A springtime bounty
It’s time to get outside and into the woods to reap the treasures of Mother Nature.
Spring is a special time of year. It brings us the incredible morel mushroom and those amazing wild leeks called ramps. I have such fond memories of “mushrooming” as we called it as kids. I was lucky enough to live next door to my Uncle Jack who is a prolific morel gatherer. We would pile into his little pickup truck with our brown paper grocery bags with the tops folded down and.........
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rolled to create clever little handles and off we would go to the hardwood forest north of town spending the next hours trouncing through the woods looking for and picking these delectable morsels.
It was not uncommon to leave the woods at the end of the day with a full, yes I said full, grocery bag of morels. That’s a lot of mushrooms!
Well, perhaps not so much when you come from a family of 8, but if you are someone like my Uncle Jack with only three in the family and you go out foraging every day, you can’t possibly eat them all. So if you have that many, and you don’t share (and I don’t recall that he shared much), then you dry them for use throughout the year.
Uncle Jack had a unique way to dry his mushrooms and it worked well when you don’t have a fancy-schmancy dehydrating machine. He would feed long lengths of heavy thread on a sewing needle and string the mushrooms with a little space between each mushroom to encourage good air circulation, then secure the end to a tack and stick it in the ceiling of his back room. During a good season, it was not uncommon to see 20, 30 or 40 lines of mushrooming hanging from ceiling to floor!This back room was a funky little area that housed the wood stove and where you would find the giant crock of homemade sauerkraut bubbling later in the year. It also was the location of the trap door down to the root cellar/basement where all the home canned goodies were located. This was indeed a scary little trap door.I only went down there once and, as I recall, I came back up much faster than I went down!
We just enjoyed our first little batch of morel mushrooms last Sunday. Our favorite preparation is simple with just a little dusting of flour and a quick sauté in olive oil and butter until crispy on the outside. Just a little S&P and, Voila, You have created something that will make you nearly swoon! Before preparing, remember to give the morels a little soak in salt water to remove any grit and insects. Dry well on paper towel before sautéing to yield a crispier texture.
Don’t forget the ramps that are plentiful at this time of year as well. Often overlooked, they are easy to prepare and their season lasts a bit longer than the morel. You will need to use a small gardening spade to gather the ramps as the tops will break off leaving the bulb still buried in the ground. Both the bulb and the tender green leaves are edible but generally are cooked separately. Clean and trim the root end off the ramp. Cut the leafy stem off the bulb. The bulb can be sliced and sautéed and added to any dish where you would use onions and garlic. Our favorite preparation is to toss the bulbs with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast on a sheet pan at 375 degrees until soft on the inside and slightly charred on the outside. The ramps are very strong in their raw state and can be overpowering. However, once roasted they become sweet like roasted garlic. Those leafy greens can be used to make a crazy pesto sauce or slice into julienne strips and sauté quickly. They are powerfully strong so a little goes a long way and are amazing mixed in with other vegetables, served with a grilled steak or chicken breast, or mixed into your favorite pasta.
As Julia always said, Bon Appétit!
****Terrie Ortwein has been interested in the culinary arts since her early years spent helping her Dad in the restaurant business. When not catering, conducting cooking classes, creating delicious dishes and minding her enchanting little shop in downtown Newaygo Terrie is an avid reader
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