Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Morel of the Story

Maybe some anonymous doorbell-ringer left a basket of flowers on your doorstep today in celebration of May Day. That is a nice enough tradition, I suppose.

But, truth be told, many of us here in mid-Missouri would gladly skip the flowers in favor of a mess of morel mushrooms. I get the whole thing about blooming and fertility and all that, and I can appreciate a colorful, aromatic bouquet of flowers as well as anyone.

But despite their noble effort to totally monopolize the five human senses, flowers score a three out of five at best. Granted, they get high marks for the senses of sight and smell, and maybe a C+ for touch, but that is about all they can realistically accomplish. We have no choice but to give them zeroes for the senses of taste (in the normal human diet, at least) and hearing.

Morels, on the other hand, are a five-ring sensory circus. It is a pleasure to search them out in the woods and watch them rise layer by layer in your bag or bucket. No other feeling rivals that spongy softness as you cradle them gently in one hand while slicing them off at the ground with the knife you are holding in the other.

A day or two later, after numerous salt-water soaks and rinses, you are still on a sensory high as you dip them in beaten egg, roll them in flour, and set them sizzling in a skillet of hot grease. At the end of it all comes the most divine taste ever experienced by man, civilized or otherwise.

We have had a rather cool spring so far, and morel season--which usually comes and goes within a week or two, depending on the weather--has run later than usual. For our family, the annual morel feast occurred last night, thanks to the keen hunting instincts and prowess of son Teebo.

Last night four generations of our family gathered to devour the circle of seasonal delicacies you see above. Mom, at age eighty-nine, was our oldest morel muncher, while two-year-old Beenie got his first taste of 'shrooms. (He called them "cookies.")

Morels are one of those carpe diem kinds of things that require us to live in the moment. When that special combination of wet weather and hot sun comes together for that all-too-brief week in April, you have to drop everything and do mushrooms, or you will miss the chance until next year. You have to abandon the diet, put the menu plan on hold, heat up the grease, and enjoy one of the truest culinary pleasures of this life.

Encouraging us to revel in life's temporal beauties, poet Robert Herrick says, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." That is okay if you like flowers. As for myself, I am happy to leave the rosebud-gathering to others and just sit here in this house where the faintest hint of fried morels still lingers.  



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