A Traverse Forest Feast
The morel’s earthy, full flavor and wily hiding ways have made it the North’s most treasured forage bounty. And surely the mushroom’s culinary versatility has also played a part. Morel’s can go casual, making, say, the lowly hamburger into a gourmet dish, or they can dress up for a formal occasion—a little wine and butter makes that an easy transformation.
After you’ve picked your net bag full (always use net bags so that as you walk, the spores drop to make more morels), head to your kitchen and slice the morels lengthwise. If you want to eat your cache immediately, soak the morels in water to remove dirt and bugs. Then sauté for soups, stews or sauces, or just devour the whole dang skilletful as is. Morels are also delicious breaded. To preserve your ’shrooms, dry them in a low oven and store in airtight containers. Reconstitute by soaking in water.
Violets taste as delicately delicious as they appear. And just as sweet is the pleasure of the search—an excuse to wander the forest on a lovely spring day. The violet makes an easy forage treat, too, because the entire violet plant is edible. For the most convenient use just drop violets into salads. But mix a light dressing so as not to overwhelm the violet’s gentle nature.
With a little more work, you can crystallize the blossoms for pastry decorations. Here’s how. Holding the stem, dip the blossom into an egg white beaten until frothy. Next, dip the blossom into superfine granulated sugar and place on a wax paper-covered cookie sheet. Slide the sheet into a 200º oven for about 40 minutes or until the sugar crystallizes.
For another exquisite treat, pick the flowers of the flavorful common blue violet to make a pink-hued jelly.
Before you enter the woods, know that while all wild violets are edible, three varieties are illegal to pick in Michigan, even on private land: Northern marsh violet (Viola epipsila), New England violet (Viola novae-angliae) and prairie birdfoot violet (Viola pedatifida). Also, you need a permit to pick the bird’s foot violet (Viola pedata). And finally, the green violet (Hybanthus concolor) is listed as a species of special concern.
Lawn freaks might view dandelions as a pestilence, but nutritionists view the sunny plant as a vitamin storehouse, better for you by some measures than spinach and broccoli. The open-minded find numerous uses for dandelions—which are entirely edible. Try frittered flowers or a coffee-like beverage made from drying and grinding its roots. A simpler use: add the young greens to salads. Pick the leaves early in the season—before the flowers shoot up. And don’t gather them from sprayed lawns. So why do we treat dandelions so rudely, anyway?