On Finding Gold in the Woods

Before the weather even warmed, I made it my goal to find the heavenly trio of the season: fiddle-heads, ramps, and morels. Finding wild edibles in abundance is certainly more exciting than a trip to the grocery store, and I would say it even tops the farmer’s market. I easily found fields of fiddle-heads in the flooded marshes near the Intervale, and soon after that we took a trip to Milton to gather baskets of wild leeks, or ramps. The treasured mushrooms were only a distant goal, since they are so elusive. Last week, to my delight, we stumbled upon a miniature village of morels while on a hike in the Northeast Kingdom. After finding the first, about a hundred others suddenly appeared in my field of vision. The brain-like golden ovals stood tall above the leaves, scattered along the edge of grassy field and the airy woods. We were standing in a minefield of my favorite fungus, and we couldn’t control our fingers. Soon we couldn’t even contain them in our arms, so we had to turn our shirts into makeshift bowls and waddle home like old women cradling ornery grandchildren.

Morels are prevalent in Vermont around this time of year, and they take well to heavy rains. They grow most commonly under ash trees, but you can also search under aging elms, cottonwoods, and sycamores, or in abandoned apple orchards and in regions recovering from fire. Look for black, yellow, or large brown morels, but be wary of their deadly doppelgangers which have foam textured stems. The edible morel is hollow through and through.

With a very full basket of fungus gold, we had a few options. We could have been wise and sold the valuable nuggets to a nearby restaurant for a pretty penny, but we decided instead to make an enormous batch of creamy pasta and invite as many people as we could fit in our dining room. We rushed to Cheese Traders to get Parmesan, fettuccine, and cream. Luckily, we still had a handful of wild leeks and a jar of ramp pesto to add to the sauce. I made a quick rue with flour and butter, caramelized the roots of the ramps, added the cleaned and sliced morels, and allowed them to wilt and reduce. I added some pesto, a bit of tarragon mustard, seasonings, and then poured in cream and a dash of white wine. Once poured over the pasta with a generous pile of finely grated Parmesan, we had ourselves a feast of gold fit for a king.

It has certainly been a fortuitous month for gathering! I can check off fiddle-heads, ramps, and morels for the month and start counting down the days until I can forage for wild berries and Queen Anne’s Lace (which makes a delicious jelly).

 

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