Botanical name : Morchella Esculenta
Common names : Morel, True Morel, Sponge Morel, Common Morel
Physical appearance : The morel features a distinctive cap which resembles a cross-section of a honeycomb. The deep pitting is a distinguishing feature which differentiates true morels from false ones. The stem is white to pale yellow whilst the cap is pale brownish cream and can include grey tones. The cap and stem form one continuous chamber.
Edible parts : Stem and cap.
Best places to find : Favours sandy soils, usually under broad leaved, hard woods. Can be found in pasture land, old orchards, woodland clearings and recently burnt arable or forest land.
Time of year : Best harvested in early Spring.
Serving suggestions : The pitted nature of the morel's surface tends to accumulate a lot of debris and/or insects. Be sure to clean thoroughly before consumption. NB! - The morel should not be consumed in its raw state, as it contains a gastrointestinal irritant (hydrazine). Parboiling or blanching these mushrooms will denature this irritant, making it safe for human consumption.
Sliced and gently fried in butter with a hint of crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Also good for stews, soups and omelettes.
Other uses : These mushrooms are ideal for freezing and drying and can be stored for a long time in these states. Morels have also been used in Chinese medicine to help treat digestive problems and to control phlegm. Modern scientific research is being carried out, into the anti viral, anti-fatigue and anti- tumour properties of the Morel.
NB - Please be sure you know what you are picking. Many plants look similar to one another and many can be poisonous! Please seek professional instruction if you are unsure! This is all the more important whilst dealing with mushrooms. Don't risk your life!!!
Photos courtesy of Beentree (a morel in forest) via Creative Commons Licence.