Sweet April makes her debut into our hills, stepping softly on the tender new grass and accompanied by the twitter of birdsong. March departs like a wet and slightly shaggy lion, leaving soggy footprints and water puddles behind him. The first tiny blue violets appear, peeping shyly through the ragged grass on the bank. There is a sprinkling of golden dandelions on the lawn, and the warm sunshine on the earth is calling forth spring.
It is almost time for the morels to appear in the woods and old orchards. In fact, our son Michael found three little ones the 22nd of March, which is quite early indeed. He found a few more last week, although they appear earlier there than they do in our Clay County woods. Abundant rainfall and warm sunshine brings them through the ground.
We usually find the half-free morel first, as it is the earliest one to appear here. Its cap usually makes up only one fourth of the mushroom’s overall height (or in other words, it is mostly stalk) and is attached about halfway down the cap. It is not to be confused with the wrinkled thimble-cap, which is considered poisonous. The cap on the wrinkled thimble cap is attached at the very top, and the stalk is full of a cottony material.
My brother Mark found almost a bushel of this variety one time, and they ate them with no ill effects. He gave me some, but I was afraid of them as they were not exactly like the true morels. You must be sure of wild mushrooms before you freely partake.
Once a person becomes familiar with the black or yellow morels, they are easy to identify and easily the favorite of mushroom addicts. Morels usually grow in the same place for several years, but sometimes skip one or two years between fruitiness. When one morel is found, there are generally several more in the same area. Favorite patches are among the most closely guarded secrets among mushroom hunters, as there is almost as much pleasure in finding them as in eating them; almost.
When I was growing up, morels (we call them merkles, although some folks call them muggles, Molly Moochers, and other terms) were the only wild mushroom we ate. We have found that there are lots of edible wild mushrooms, and have learned to enjoy the chicken (or sulfur shelf) and oyster mushrooms almost as much as we do the morels.
Pheasant-back, or dryad’s saddle, is another very tasty wild mushroom, and can be eaten raw in salads. Its big spring season is a sure sign of morel season, fruiting on deciduous stumps and coming back year after year. It may not be as prized as the morel, but is often found in great quantity. It is also a very safe mushroom to eat, as there are no dangerous look-a-likes. It is always exciting to try out a new mushroom after we are sure of it’s identity.
I just looked on my favorite stump for the appearing of the pheasant-back, but it is still bare. Guess we’ll have to wait a few more days to search for the morels. Watch what you eat from the woods.
Cousin Alyce Faye
P.S. I got a letter from Aunt Martha. I thought you might like to read it. Funny, she writes just like she talks. I have cleaned up her accent a little for you. You remember her; she lives a little farther south than us and their school year ends in the middle of May.
Dear Cousin Alyce Faye,
Spring has finally come to our holler. Through my kitchen window I can see the little apple blossom petals floatin’ the wind like snow in January and the air is full of the scent of lilacs. The birds are a singin’ their little hearts out while they are busy buildin’ nests for their little ones. There ain’t any more rushin’ than the spring of the year, but I love it.
The front room needs a good cleanin’ since Uncle Silas took the old WARM MORNING heater out but it’s hard to stay indoors when there’s merkles in the fields and wildflowers in the woods. Uncle Silas has the early crops out, like peas and onions, potatoes, and lettuce. He’s watchin’ the dogwood bushes now, for when the leaf gets as big as a mouse’s ear, it’s time to plant the corn.
Li’l Sid is makin’ plans to go to the high school prom. He wants to rent one of them ‘tucks’ that that make a grown man look like a penguin. Uncle Silas says it is a piece of foolishness. He said, “For the rentin’ of one of them monkey suits, he could get two good pair of bib overalls from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Li’l Sid planted his number twelve brogans flat on the floor and stood his ground.
Hit’ll be a plumb sight anyhow to see him hoistin’ up his girl Nellie May into that old farm pickup and her in that fancy red silky dress. I don’t know why the kids have such a newfangled notion of courtin’. Why, me and Uncle Silas done most of our courtin’ in the old porch swing and it’s lasted for thirty-some odd years. Course the porch swing is still in purdy good shape; we’s still courtin’ in it.
I seen in the paper where Cousin Sophie said for us wimmin to tell our husbands we loved them and she would too. Well, iffen it’s all the same to you Sophie, I’ll tell Uncle Silas I love him and you can tell your own husband. Things like that can cause a heap of trouble ‘un me’n Uncle Silas is too old to deevide up the seed corn now.
Cousin Artie said, “You can’t find merkles in the dicshunary. Them people done put morels in there instead. I guess they didn’t know how to spell it right. Just you watch and don’t go getting’ flounder on ’em. Y’all come visit a spell when you get the chance.
Best uv love,
Aunt Martha ‘un Uncle Silas