False vs. Edible Morel Mushrooms and Fiddlehead Ferns

| 6/12/2014 10:10:00 AM

Tags: food foraging, morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, wild edibles, Washington, Lyndsay Dawson Mynatt,

Wild edibles are a joy to find, when identified correctly. The feeling of euphoria can easily misguide the senses into confusing false varieties for the real thing. Morels and Fiddleheads are two species that contain edible and inedible counterparts that is distinguishable with a little know-how.

Basket of Verpa bohemicas

Morel mania. Swept away by the giddiness of finding the elusive species, I rapidly fill my basket until it is overflowing with hundreds of morels - a record find! The mushroom fairies must be smiling on my efforts of locating the hidden gems, camouflaged by pine needles, cones, and new growth.  I guard my basket with Gollum-like tendencies.  No one must see my precious. Then at the flip of a page of the mushroom guidebook, my precious turns to precarious. My basket is not full of morels, but of disappointments.  Verpa bohemica, false morel. The current debate of Verpas is too inconclusive to add it as a regularly consumed item on my foraging list. Although I have eaten it (mistakenly) and I would probably eat it again, consuming carcinogens is something I try to avoid. 

Misidentification of Morel Mushrooms

Ready to kick the smiling ferries, I wonder how I confused the two species. Research reveals a simple mistake. Although Verpa bohemica and Morchella elata look identical from the outside, the stem and cap attachment defines the truth. Real morels are hollow from stem to cap, while false morels are attached like a thimble. The stem of false morels has cotton candy like fluff on the inside.  It’s that simple unless the mushroom haze clouds your brain.

Morel Mushroom Harvest and Preparation

Harvest the correctly identified Morchella by cutting the stem just above the ground. Be mindful to leave a good amount behind so spores can multiply in the following years. Clean the mushroom by lightly rinsing and brushing; don’t let too much water be absorbed into the flesh.

The entire mushroom is edible; so do not hesitate to cook up the whole thing.  Large enough caps can be stuffed with meat, cheese, and seasonings, while smaller ones can be sliced in delicate rings and marinated with oil, lemon, and spices. Recipes are endless, just be creative and cook thoroughly!

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