Sunday, April 15, 2012
would you eat a false morel?
sabin and i spend a lot of time picking bunny greens (don't even ask how many rabbits we have). they love the new, tender dandelion leaves and we comb our property far and wide, filling a basket twice a day. today, our bunny foraging session took us down to our new apple orchard. to get back, we walked through our little shelter belt, which consists largely of pine trees. there's a path through this little forest that our mole man once disturbingly referred to as romantic, and it might be that, but not when your companion is an elderly man carrying two dead moles in his hand (but i digress). the path is cool and quiet and smells for real like those pine-fresh cleaning products they tried to force on us for years. and along the way, i spotted this funny little mushroom. so i picked it to take back to the house and identify it.
according to my three mushroom books (roger phillips, john wright (for river cottage) and politiken) it is the false morel - gyromitra esculenta. a cousin of the delicious spring morel (morchella esculenta), which is the mushroom of my childhood. its habitat is sandy soil in a pine forest - which is precisely what we've got. it seemed to like areas where there were quite a lot of fallen pinecones - which they blend in with very nicely.
john wright, the wonderful forager of river cottage, writes most damningly of the false morel. he says, "this is the puffer fish of the fungal world. raw or poorly prepared it is deadly, yet with proper treatment it is, by all accounts, delicious." he goes on to say that gyromitrin, the toxin in the mushroom, when coupled with human stomach acids turns to monomethyl-hydrazine more commonly known as rocket fuel.
yet still, the mushroom is considered a delicacy by many europeans. it's available in markets in finland (with a warning and careful cooking instructions) and in poland (where 23% of mushroom deaths are attributed to it). if you don't detoxify it - either by boiling it and then discarding the water and then boiling it again, or drying it thoroughly for several months and then boiling it to prepare it - it could very well kill you.
mushroom expert tom volk says that even the boiling process can be toxic, as the fumes rising while you boil it contain the toxin and can make you seriously ill. but interestingly, tho' my danish mushroom book mentions the rocket fuel aspect and the boiling, it doesn't actually suggest that you shouldn't eat it. in fact, it gives it 3 dots for edibility - which is the highest of any in the book. and the everyday name is spiselig stenmorkel (edible stone morel).
so what to do, when your forest yields a significant mess of mushrooms and they have a gorgeous texture and smell divine? i did take a small whiff, tho' i was a bit afraid after volk's warning about the fumes from the toxin. they don't smell toxic at all. mushrooms are such a wily foe. but wouldn't you know that any you can find in quantity might be quite dangerous. *sigh*
i picked a whole mess of them anyway - it was such fun. i sliced them and have them laid out on a tray on a high, dry shelf, to see if they'll dry, while i decide what to do. what's worrying about the warnings is that it's thought that it's a toxicity that builds up, so while you may not become ill the first time you eat them, you might the second. or third. and ill isn't just ill, but we're talking liver damage, delirium and coma. but still i couldn't bring myself to throw them out after i'd had such a blissful time in the forest, gathering them. the good news is, all three books say that it's likely that real morels will grow in the same spot. so i'll definitely be looking in the next couple of months for those.