Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Last week, I discovered an infestation of morels near my house. Well, OK, I've only found four of them, but if I were really motivated, I bet I could hunt around for enough to justify claims of a colony. I'm pretty sure they're the real deal: they're hollow, their caps are joined to their stems at the base (not the top), and they have a nice pitted and ridged crown. Here's a picture of one of them.

It's a lovely organism, but the idea of putting the damn thing in my mouth drives me batshit. It's not that it's exotic-looking--not much worse than a cauliflower really--it's that the idea of eating weird-looking shit I find outside is wrong. I can look at pictures and field manuals all day, but until I see someone else pluck it, prep it, and pop it in his or her mouth, my stomach clenches at the very idea. Damn shame too, because I've always wanted to taste morels.

I want to blame evolution, but it's not the lowness of the lifeform that sparks the revulsion. (After all, I can't imagine a life without yeast.) I'll eat a lily bulb before a garden variety bug or snail, but I'll scarf a dandelion or a pansy from my yard before I start shaking out pine cones for nutty treasures (which I quite enjoy of course). And I eye those baby spring ferns with deep apprehension. I want to saute the curly little bastards, but...

I'm an open-minded eater, but there are certain foods for which I hold an unreasonable horror. Partly it's because they're slimy and gross, partly because they just seem like they shouldn't be eaten, partly because they remind us of the animal nature of our dinners: tripes, brains, eyes. I can't imagine eating an animal's kidneys and I find the thought of sweetbread to be offensive, but I like calf's liver and heart. And I just love sausage. (Not like that, you pervert.) One time I had jellyfish, and even though it tasted like fishy noodles, it was hard to divorce my mind from the puddles of stinging beach goo. Seaweed tastes similar, but I've no problem with it. Lobsters taste good enough to get past the sea-bug vibe. Snails haul their big slimy foot awfully close to teh line, but I'll guzzle raw clams at the picnic. What's the difference? (The thing with the salt, for one.)

One of the better parts of Michael Pollan's recent book, was a (qualitative) discussion of food aversions, the odd combination of learned and instinctive behavior. The role of learning in person, he says, is irreplacable--edibility is something that really needs to be shown. Maybe that's why, against all reason, the American mind doesn't revolt against a twinkie in the same way it does against, say, chicken feet. As usual, it's the marketing.

Edible shrooms hold a certain freakish terror of their own. No matter how much I love some of the storebought varieties, I share the common human suspicion that yard fungus is deadly poisonous until proven otherwise (and even then, even then...). If I beat the odds and found (and recognized) a truffle, bet that I would chuck it horrified back into the trees. I'd make a second-rate survivalist. If I were suave, come the apocalypse, I could use those book-smarts to at least convince some tasters. Some people are made to be leaders, others to whisper in their ears. To my future band of ragged starving misfits: remember that I'm too valuable to kill. I can recognize a morel for you to try.


LentenStuffe said...


Don't know if you intended that, but your ponderings tickled me: To eat or not to eat? You're right. Not if it looks like that.

Keifus said...

Glad you enjoyed. It's definitely weird compared to some of the things people are actually comfortable eating. Funny what we can't get past.


twiffer said...

morels are very, very, very tasty. and run between $30-$40 a pound.

they have a very nice earthy and woody flavor to them. not like those bland white button shrooms.

i'll bet you've got fiddleheads back there too. bastard.

twiffer said...

you do. i missed that part.

seriously. pick the morels. pick the fiddleheads. buy some shallots, garlic and sage and sauté in butter untill the fiddleheads just start to turn a light green and get tender (you still want a bit of crunch). it's worth the risk of death. specially cause the shrooms are very pricey, and even the fiddleheads are (down here at least). 8 bucks a pound for ferns.

Keifus said...

But I'm chicken to try 'em.

I had this discussion with my wife last week after seeing the mushrooms--why the hell aren't we gathering up the fern babies in back?

You can just eat those fiddleads? she asked.

Uh, yeah, but I don't think we should... (Actually I'd need to double check if they're the right ferns, I can't recall if I saw the winter skeletons of them or not.)

There's also lots of poison ivy and pokeweed there, so I suppose it evens out.

twiffer said...

one of the things that is great about fiddleheads (besides the taste) is that they remain a seasonal treat. so i scarf 'em down while i can. but i think they are just the common sort of fern you'd find in your backyard.

besides, none of this stuff is instantly deadly.

Keifus said...

I'd been reading how the ostrich fern fiddleheads are the better tasting, and how some more common fern varieties are toxic in the give-you-cancer-in-twenty-years sort of way. (Good luck tracing that to ferns.) It looks like I have the good ones in back, but they're all big, primitive plants now. (Shrooms are dessicated husks a couple days later too. Maybe next year I'll grow a pair.)

Brian said...

Just go through reading one of the strangest sci fi "novels": Shriek: An Afterward, which is set in a City infested with fungus (and fungus people). I'm not sure I can eat mushrooms again.

hipparchia said...

harvest them and sell to twiffer.

imwxkfms: muxing fushrooms!

LentenStuffe said...

twiff definitely has the T.C. Boyle touch there.

twiffer said...

i would've cooked 'em, too.

Keifus said...

In my sci-fi universe, the benevolent fungus people wander through the barley fields and sweat beer.

rundeep said...

Morels rock. Though frankly, it's a little late in the season for them. Here's the usual test for poisonous shrooms -- break one's cap from the stem and let it fall over. If it turns blue, avoid like plague. If it doesn't -- it's good to go. (The foodie husband went through a big shroom phase. I could follow his path through the neighborhood by the trail of broken mushroom caps) If you really want to be sure, take it to a local chef. If he or she swoons, that's what they are.

Other tips -- on the whole, shrooms growing out of wood are okay, out of the ground? know what you are doing. Fiddleheads don't do it for me, though we have a gazillion of them. I don't like the consistency.

Most vegetable matter, I will eat happily. It's exotic proteins that turn me off -- worm, ant, etc. When it comes to insects, I'll eat crayfish and lobsters (tell me that's not just a water-borne insect!), but nothing else, thanks.

rundeep said...

Just looked at some pictures. Unmistakeable. Cook that sucker! The flavor is not to be believed.

Artemesia said...

This morel thrived outside your door! Nature is saying 'eat me,' as it once spoke to Alice..only you would be able to go home again. And those fiddleheads,another bounty at your feet. Mark Bittman's 'How to Cook Everything' includes how to cook fiddleheads. And a book called 'Local Flavors,' by Madison has a morel recipe in her wild mushroom section,'Asparagus and Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding,' page 37. This book includes a lot you would find at Farmer's Markets. How about making believe that you're visiting a planet and sampling its exotic plants/foods? Earth, say?
(LOL) That morel looks pretty brainy. Maybe it's what Einstein ate before he decided to talk!

I love your post and your garden..

Keifus said...

My wife works part-time at a fine-dinin' type of restaurant, gets on well with the chef. Lots of good ideas from that direction (which is how the fiddlehead conversation started actually).

But it's all going to have to wait till next spring.

Yes it looks brainy. Maybe I'd risk death if it could make me smarter.

hipparchia said...

i don't have anything useful to add to the discussion, but i couldn't resist this:

fuwyla wily fugu of louisiana

Keifus said...

well worth it (but a long trip).

Galatea said...

Hi Keifus,

I hope next year I find a post here telling us how you cooked up these precious morsels. Mushrooms & Fiddleheads WOW ... I don't know how fast they came and went but Twiffer's recipe sounded scrumptious!
When I first read your sentence, ”I want to sauté the curly little bastards, but...” I thought you said salute them! So next year please do salute them before tossing them onto the fire.

Bon appetite in advance!

~ Galatea

Keifus said...

Yeah, I wasn't so rigorous as to get the diacritic in there (after all that about fonts, I know).

Fiddleheads are definitely going in the pot next spring. Shrooms are creepier, but one thumbs up from a live person, and so will they.

And yeah, twiff's dish sounds good even without the morels.

MerelMystery said...

I actually have mycophobia,
so dont joke about it.