And the Morel Is…

Yes, I mean the mushroom–not the lesson of a story. Those elusive delicacies have been popping up across the wooded areas of Southern Illinois for a few weeks now. The southern tip of the state has likely hit its peak of the season or is a bit past it at this point as warmer days increase.

I remember going mushroom hunting with my family when I was a little kid. We would carry our plastic Bunny Bread bags and walking sticks into the woods of Marion county to look for morel mushrooms. Sometimes we brought a picnic. I was easily sidetracked by small treasures and flowers… Yes, it is good to know some things have not changed that much over time.

Bits of wisdom imparted to me on those early mushroom hunting adventures were that the morels like to grow near may apples and to be careful with sticks that might actually be snakes. Fallen trees and logs may also be spots worth checking. Anyone who plans to hunt morels does need to consult some sort of resource with experience to be sure they are not hunting the toxic, false morels. Not all mushrooms are safe. A lack of wisdom and caution can be deadly. Also, please make sure you have permission to be on a property before you start searching for morels. Please have good morals even if you find no morels… All woods in this century belong to someone. If it is private land, consult the owner. If it is public, read the signs. In this day and age, failing to do those things can be as deadly as a toxic mushroom.

When my kids were younger, we went up to look for mushrooms in my parents’ woods with my brother. Unfortunately, we did not find many mushrooms, but again, I found flowers… The kids were able to experience a bit of clean air by the muddy creek bed, unplugged, as my brother and I had when we were their ages.

Progression maps are available on various social media forms to let people know where morels have been spotted so far this season. There are multiple groups on Facebook one can request to join to share pictures of their haul and share tips or recipes. I like the graphics and info in this one:

https://www.facebook.com/IllinoisMorelMushrooms/

I know there is some controversy over the best way to prepare the morels, but just don’t consume them raw. My parents used to soak them overnight in salt water. (My mom said it drove out any little critters.) Then they were battered in a cornmeal mixture and fried. I’ve seen posts where morels have been sauteed with garlic, butter, and olive oil. Some of my relatives have made pizza with them. Friends have stuffed them rather decadently with cheese. As with most ingredients, you are only limited by your imagination.

Note: the morel mushroom photos in this post article are free stock photos from Pixaby shot by other talented people. I’m sure I have taken photos of morels through the years, but I sure can’t find them at the moment…

TOSI Challenge: Flat Iron Steak Sandwich & Fries

Individual flat iron steaks from Dierks Farms and fresh sourdough bread baked by Scratch Brewing Company, both of Ava, were among groceries I got this past Saturday at the Carbondale Community Farmer’s Market. This pair of ingredients seemed like a great starting point for a TOSI (Taste Of Southern Illinois) Challenge creation.

For the steaks, I used a quick marinade of Ponzu, grapeseed oil, salt, pepper and a few drops of red wine vinegar. Then I applied some Cactus Pete’s Ultimate Steak House Rub, made in Buckner, that I found at Arnold’s Market in Carbondale.

I grilled thick slices of the sourdough bread in a bit of butter on my George Foreman grill. I also grilled some onions and sweet mini pepper strips with a few shiitake mushrooms from Fly Away Family Farms of Makanda. Each side of bread was smeared with basil pesto. After grilling the steaks and allowing them to rest for the juices to redistribute, they were sliced against the grain. I added a slice of Swiss cheese for flavor.

The oven fries were pretty simple but tasty. I cut scrubbed Russett potatoes into thick fries and coated them with grapeseed oil, salt, pepper, and paprika before baking in a single layer at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes, turning once. For the fry dipping sauce, I mixed a bit of mayonnaise with ketchup and added some chopped fresh herbs. I used basil and parsley from my kitchen window with some dill from All Seasons Farm of Cobden. The ivrn fries were the perfect compliment to the flat iron steak sandwich.