Monday, May 17, 2010

Morels and Dryad's Saddle

We met up with Arena about mid-day on Sunday. It was a tricky day for me as Baby Yub Yub was so excited about being outside she refused to take a nap. So I listened to what I could, misidentified some plants, and chased my cranky daughter. Luckily there are two of us (Single parents, I bow down to you in homage of your great patience!). Thag followed Arena and listened to her wisdom.

It turns out Arena forages for much more than mushrooms. She is a foraging expert, with beautifully illustrated journals documenting her foraging journals and an arsenal of field guides. She is self trained and has eaten many more wild edibles than we have. In addition she has kept careful records of where and when she found things. What a role model!

To begin with, we foraged along a quiet dirt road where Arena had found mushrooms before. We discovered some Dryad's Saddle (also known as Pheasant's Back; scientific name: Polyporus squamosus) growing on the bottom section of a tree trunk. According to Arena and our field guides these mushrooms are easy to identify so we felt more comfortable eating them. Unfortunately they were a bit old and are best (as most things are) when young. Arena said we could cut off the outer edge of the mushroom and it would still be fine to eat; unfortunately they were rather wormy. Still we collected a bunch in a brown paper bag and set off.

Next on our list: the prized morel. Said to be among the best tasting of mushrooms, when we discuss our project with people, we are often asked, "So have you found any morels?" Morels are a funky looking little mushroom, with long caps that are deeply pitted. Arena has lots of morel spots to gather from, though she says you never know where they will show up next, and she often doesn't find them in the same place twice. She says 95 percent of all her morel finds are at the base of old, even dying, ash or apple trees.

And that is where we found them. We collected two different types of morels from three different locations, collecting seven mushrooms altogether. Arena reports that some years are better than others and this year is not fantastic. Still, we wouldn't have found any alone. The mushrooms are so small and so well hidden, we would have stepped on them rather than found them ourselves.

Back at home, I carefully cleaned and sliced our mushrooms. Much of the dryad's saddle was too riddled with worms to eat. We sauteed them in separte pans with butter, onion, and salt.

And the verdict is...The morels were fantastic. An easy 5. This is saying something as I have never been a mushroom fan.

The dryad's saddle presented a conundrum. Never before have Thag and I had such a discrepancy in our ratings. I could not palate them. I found them off putting in their smell and flavor, and their texture much too tough. I couldn't swallow them. Rating: 1. Thag loved them. He ate them up and wanted more. He describes them as smelling sweet like cucumbers. He gave them a 4. So, you'll have to try them for yourself.


  1. Arena wrote us to say:

    Sometimes I don't find morels in the same spot twice, but sometimes I find them year after year in the same spot. Also, this has been a very poor year for morels and Dryad's Saddle. I've found about 1/4 the quantity of morels that I gather in an average year. But according to Michael Kuo, that means that it's a good year for the morels. He thinks that morels only fruit when they've used up all of their habitat and are in distress.

  2. Morels are the nastiest looking mushroom I've ever had the misfortune to find. Nasty slime in the pocks. The best I can do is kick them out of my grass. No way can I touch one.

  3. Oh, and they are growing Strong here in west, tx. I've dug an over 15 since June. The like st Augustine grass.