Nature lovers and chefs rejoice; morels are about to be back in season. One of nature’s delicacies, the fungi retails anywhere from $6.50 to $8 a pound and grows in post-burn areas. According to Hank Shaw, an author and chef based in Sacramento, the place to look for these tasty treats is above 3000 feet, in an area with conifers, when temperatures are in the 70s during the day and 40s at night. Shaw said it best in describing the West Coast morel as “the bittersweet fruit of a forest fire.”

When hunting morels, there are a few things to consider, and the hunt ideally happens the first year after a fire. The likelihood of finding morels, while not impossible, subsequently goes down each year after an area burned. Most importantly, make sure you are legally allowed to be picking in the area you choose — most times, national forests allow picking, but require permits. Also, not all burn zones are created equal; it is all dependent on the intensity of the fire and the type of trees that burned. The soil under the matted needles and leaves should be cool and moist; if the soil is dry, you’re unfortunately too late.

The first week in May is when things really get going in the morel mushroom West Coast world. However, the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz is having a guided foray in the Eldorado National Forest on April 18. More info at ffsc.us/forays. Happy picking.

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, written by Barbara Kingsolver after her family’s locavore year on their farm in Southern Appalachia, welcomes readers to unearth the secret lives of vegetables while eating locally and in-season. Mayumi Elegado, Moonshine’s publisher, fearless leader, and local food connoisseur made the below recipe last year, from local morels, and gave it nothing but rave reviews. For more seasonal recipes, like this one, visit animalvegetablemiracle.com/recipes.htm ~ Ally Gravina/Moonshine Ink

Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding

INGREDIENTS

3 cups milk

1 cup chopped spring onions with green shoots

stale or toasted loaf of multigrain grain bread

1 lb asparagus

2 Tbsp butter

1 lb morels (other wild mushrooms can be substituted)

salt and pepper to taste

4 eggs

1/3 cup chopped parsley

3 tbs. oregano

3 cups grated Swiss cheese

DIRECTIONS

1. Add onions to milk in sauce pan and bring to a boil, set aside to steep

2. Break bread into crouton sized crumbs

3. Pour milk over crumbs and allow bread to soak

4. Chop asparagus into ½ inch pieces and simmer in skillet full of boiling water until bright green

5. Melt butter in skillet, cook mushrooms until tender, add spices and set aside

6. Break eggs and beat until smooth, add herbs, and plenty of salt and pepper, add bread crumbs with remaining milk, asparagus and mushrooms with their juices and 2/3 of the cheese.

7. Mix thoroughly and pour into a greased, 8×12 in gratin dish, sprinkle remaining cheese on top and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes (until puffy and golden).

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