Spring is right here, which implies only one factor to a small group of native food-obsessed New Yorkers: morels.
The rectangular, closely ridged mushrooms favor to develop in heat and moist circumstances, which is why April and May are prime morel season on the East Coast. They’re recognized for their wealthy, nutty taste, meaty texture and exorbitant price ticket — as much as $35 a pound at the grocery store, and way more at an upscale restaurant.
That’s why I — an novice forager — determined to tag together with some skilled mushroom males to see if I may discover bounties of morels in the wild for myself.
Easier mentioned than executed, I found.
People go “morel mad,” in the spring, mentioned Sigrid Jakob, 55, president of the New York Mycological Society. Not solely are they scrumptious, however “they’re also the first edible spring mushroom and it’s just great to be out in the woods again after a long off-season,” Jakob mentioned. “So when you find a big flush of them it truly feels like you’ve hit the jackpot.”
Foraging for wild meals is definitely prohibited in New York City parks. So whereas the membership has recognized greater than 1,100 species of fungi in the 5 boroughs, these discovered in metropolis parks should not for choosing and consuming. Outdoor adventurers with dinner in thoughts have to journey exterior of the Big Apple, Jakob mentioned.
But the place? Good luck getting that data out of a seasoned mushroom hunter.
Morels are notoriously arduous to seek out, camouflaging themselves in nature. They’re additionally difficult to carry onto — with rumors of pickers getting mugged for their morels.
And so I met up with Anthony Lo Pinto — a farm-to-table chef and sommelier who’s lively in the biodynamic agriculture motion in Rockland County — to scour for morels and different native goodies.
There are plenty of edible fungi in the wild, however there are additionally many which can be toxic or lethal. It’s finest to be taught your mushrooms, ideally from an area professional or mushroom membership. Don’t depend on apps or opinions from social media for identification.
Lo Pinto, 52, mentioned foraging for meals makes him really feel linked to the land and its historical past.
“Some of the wild foods that we eat have been around for centuries, and when we eat them, we’re eating their evolutionary history,” he mentioned as we walked by means of a sprawling farm.
He confirmed me a few of his favourite wild herbs so as to add to his dishes, together with false nettles, clover and the widespread dandelion. He mentioned he likes including the petals of wild violets and dandelions to his dishes for colour and vibrance.
“When you eat a flower petal, you’re eating part of the plant’s solar panel,” Lo Pinto mentioned. “The petals help to change the sunlight into nutrition during the spring and summer seasons. You’re eating sunlight.”
Yeah, however what about the morels?
To discover these, we searched down on the floor round the stumps of useless and decaying timber, which is the place morels are likely to thrive, he defined.
We additionally added one other professional to our search occasion: Rockland County forager Paul Tappenden, creator of “The Edible Plants of Nyack and Beyond.”
Originally from London, the 74-year-old Tappenden has been foraging for greater than 50 years. He mentioned it’s much less about the grand prize, and extra about discovering “little treasures along the way.”
“When out foraging, it is almost like every day is your birthday,” he mentioned.
Tappenden appreciated my morel mission, however mentioned he prefers to eat different wild mushrooms, resembling golden chanterelles and black trumpets.
As we scoured the grounds, Lo Pinto defined the draw of all free-growing fungi. “As a chef I love the flavor profiles that a wild mushroom brings. I also love how mystical they are. They only appear when nature calls on them to start to decompose a dead tree, a tree stump or leaves,” he mentioned.
By the finish of our day, we got here throughout just a few differing kinds, together with wine caps and turkey tails. Not wanting us to finish our time with out the full expertise, Lo Pinto served up sauteed morels with pasta, cooked forest-side. The meaty texture had a pleasant chew and gave off a fantastic earthy, nutty taste. It was a fantastic complement to the wild ramps and onion grass added to the dish.
And sure, we discovered just a few morels in the wild — however I’m not telling the place.