|Fire morel awaits mushroom lovers
The Sportsmanís Report
Mushroom lovers, this is your shot at finding the exotic fire morel.
They love to come up in the spring after a fire the year before. Hard to spot, fun to find, and the taste of fresh morel will keep you wanting more. Here is the deal, find a fire from the previous year in the area you want to foray. Then inquire about a permit from the management system of that area (not all require a permit, not all are free and some have daily limits). A citation can be expensive, upwards of $300. Many mushroom folk are shrill about the government oversight being an unnecessary evil, and they will never comply.
The intelligent fungalist takes a different view and that is management of resources, including collecting any forest product. This is a good thing. This is why we still have fish to catch, deer to hunt, abalone to pry and a long list of fruits of the forest and sea available to the public.
Last September, there was a huge fire on Cow Mountain east of Ukiah. It burned downhill nearly to Lakeport, a serious wild fire. Nearly all of the burn was on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a part of our Federal BLM system.
The fire (Scotts Creek fire) burned the brushy chemise to a pile of ash. This is not where you are likely to find fire morels, as they tend to grow where there is still some vegetation that survived. Ideally burned understory with singed trees as over story is optimal, and the Scotts Creek Fire has this in good quantity. Because we had spring weather two months early, the chance of success is high right now. Access is a bit tricky, so you will need a map. Also, you will need a permit, issued free by the Ukiah BLM field office.
I spent time on the phone this morning with the friendly staff there to get you details on access, permit requirement and other issues. To get to their Web site, it is easiest to Google: BLM Ukiah Field Office. This will find a direct link to their Web site. There, you will find their address, phone number and free maps in PDF format. Pardee Barwell is the person who will issue you a permit. You can pick one up at the office, order one by phone, fax or request one by email, which you can then print out and sign.
Once in hand, be sure to have it with you at all times in the burn area. Each person will need his or her own permit. If you are a commercial mushroom collector, there is another whole set of requirements. For the personal use group, us, the permit is free.
I also spoke with the fire prevention specialist at the BLM office, Jeff Punnell, a very helpful man. He said they do not require an additional permit from his department, but that you should be aware of road conditions and other serious factors that might keep you out of trouble.
Jeff said access from the west side of Cow Mountain is off Mill Creek near Talmadge, which is where a map is a must. It is a long, dusty or muddy drive to the top of the fire zone and a steep climb down into the zone without road access. The bottom of the fire access is from Scotts Valley Road to the bottom of Dren Eden Trail. Well marked and steep, the first portion of the trail is through private property not open to the public. The trail goes right through the burn.
For more information on how to identify a morel, go to www.mykoweb.com and search ‘California Species Index’ and drill down to ‘morels.’ You will find great information on the morel family with lots of photos. One thing about the tasty morel, it is poisonous. The chemical signature of the poisonous part is heat volatile and is dissipated with cooking. I like to simmer them in a wine, shallot cream sauce for about 20 minutes. My good friend, the late Chris Beck, loved to collect them and cut open the fist-sized morels, make a stuffing (think French Duxelle) and baked them with a butter baste, a taste exotic and heavenly. Morel are one of the mushrooms that dehydrates well.
I have kept them for years after drying in canning jars and been happy with the taste. They also freeze, but be sure to cook them before they go into the freezer bags.
Morel are notoriously difficult to clean. Slice down the middle, as they are hollow, and gently wash them in a sink of water. A fine sand will appear in the drained sink. Repeat until there is almost no sand and refill your sink again, but add a teaspoon of salt for every gallon of cold water. Gently agitate, this will usually get the last bit of stubborn grit off your mushrooms.
Dry them in a rack or on a towel and proceed to the sauté pan or food dehydrator. If you would like to hold one in your hand before you go, the best source is the local supermarket. They usually have the dried version in small bags for sale. The price is as shocking as they are tasty.
Contact information for the Ukiah BLM office at (707) 468-4000. Punnell’s extension is 4053 and Barwell’s extension is 4055.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.