C.W. Gusewell


Room for morels turns men into mush

Mushrooms were absent.

Not all of them. Only the most delicious and most prized – the splendid morels.

There’s no accounting for this spring’s failure of the normally bounteous fungal bloom.

In April 2010, our three-day harvest was 556.

The following year was a bit lean – only 60-some.

But in 2012, fortune smiled. Though drought was a problem over much of the country, sufficient rain fell in the area of our Ozark cabin and was followed by a timely spell of seasonal warmth.

That spring’s haul was so immense as to border on the obscene. In no more than two hours of looking – in an area not much larger than a city yard – we gathered 1,752 morels, so newly emerged that their stems still were moist at the base.

No one we knew – not even the longtime residents of that area – had ever heard of such abundance.

Some we ate. A good many we gave away. A few we dehydrated to be saved for later enjoyment. And some my daughter sold for $35 a pound to a neighborhood gourmet restaurant that vowed to take at that price all she could find in future years.

But nature’s gifts are not dependable.

For whatever reason – March snows, repeated morning frosts, bitter nights and rains that came too meager and too late – the immense mushroom emergence did not occur this year.

Oh, some morels were found. A few by full-time residents of that hill country. But nothing like the numbers of past seasons, and certainly not by us.

Full of hope, carrying our collecting sacks, we went after a promising April shower to the area we call our “honey hole” – a location known only to dearest friends and immediate family members.

It’s a place reachable without too much effort, but far enough from the road that it is unlikely to be found by trespassing pickers.

Our spirits were high, our expectations keen.

Our total find? Zero.

Hearing of our dismal luck, a farm friend brought us what he hoped might ease our disappointment. It was a sack full of red mushrooms – the heavy, almost meaty kind.

“Some people say they’re poisonous,” he told us. “But we eat ‘em and like ‘em.”

The parents of a girl I dated many years ago went on vacation with another couple to a place in the northern woods. The man of that pair, professing to be knowledgeable about mushrooms, found and cooked a mess of them for supper.

The others chose not to eat them, but he made a meal of them. Then, in the night, he felt some stomach distress, and thinking it might give him some relief, he polished off the the leftovers.

“All we can do,” a local doctor told the man’s wife and their friends, “is try to keep him comfortable to the end.”

Those red mushrooms we received never made their way to table.