Despite the dismal rainy weather, the Bake Sale was a success, so I'd like to say a great big Thank You to any of you that made it out there and picked up a treat or two. I believe all in all we ended up raising $1040 for Share Our Strength, which is pretty great (at least I think so, but then this was also my first bake sale).
It's funny that on the one day we wanted it to be sunny it rained and the previous weekend when we could have used a bit of rain, except for a few rogue rain clouds that snuck through the area in the night, we had nothing but sunshine. You see, last weekend I went hunting. No no no, no one gave me a gun, don't you worry. I was mushroom hunting for Morels. You see, when I was little, sometime around my 8th birthday my family went on a trip. We rented a cabin somewhere in the woods of Georgia (the country, not the state) and explored the area. I was pretty young and don't remember too much about that trip. I remember that the people at the cabin next to ours gave me a chocolate bar when they found out it was my birthday, I remember the black squirrels with white tummies and little tufts of fur on their ears, and I remember that when a group was heading out to go mushroom picking early one morning, my parents forbid me to go. I begged and pleaded and stomped my feet and in the end I stayed at the cabin and sulked. Thinking back I understand why they said no: unless you know exactly what you're looking for, it's easy to pick a poisonous fungus and die. That's right mushroom picking is not for the feint of heart, but the 8 year old me didn't care. I remembered that slight and I've waited for an opportunity to present itself for over 20 years (turns out I'm tenacious).
A few weeks ago, a friend on his way through the flat and boring outer reaches of Illinois noticed a billboard advertising a Morel Fest in a little town of Ottawa, IL. And in case the town name calls out to the history buff in you, apparently this was the site of the Lincoln vs. Douglas debates back in 1858. But more importantly then that, they were going to have guided mushroom hunts followed by a mushroom picking contest, and there was no way I'd be missing out again. I make my own decisions these days :D
After a brief review of all things morel, and after a nice dodge on all "where are the best spots to find them" questions, they drove us around until we were thoroughly disoriented and then dropped us of at the edge of a forest and set us loose with a few guides.
Hunting mushrooms is hard work! You fight your way through the brambles, trudge through dirt and down ravines, fight your way past snapping branches all the while keeping your eyes on the ground looking for the tell tale mushroom caps and ignoring the ones that that just look cool, like these:
Occasionally you look up and see the forest:
And every once in a while you remember, that there are real animals in the woods, not just flora. By the end of the weekend it started to feel a bit like an episode of Bones:
Even the trees looked sinister:
And then you find one. And you squeal and you take a picture and you carefully put it into your net:
And then you find another and you're hooked:
At the end of the first day we had a handful of mushrooms to take home and plan our return the next morning.
So this is where the excitement winds down a bit. We spent hours scouring the forest the next day, risking life and limb (I'm not kidding, there was a Girl Scout camp near by and we were warned that if we wander into their turf we might get shanked...I guess there's a badge for that?) and in the end I found only two mushrooms. Some people had better luck, but I'm convinced they cheated.
And look at this guy! That mushroom was close to seven inches tall!
Me? I slunk home with my haul and made a quiche for Mother's Day. My dad said that I tried to poison them all with my magic mushrooms, but he ate two slices and we're all still kicking, so I'm calling it a success.
Onion and Morel Quiche
adapted from the recipe by Southern Saturdays with Virginia
Makes one 9-inch quiche
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
5 onions, she suggests Vidalia but I just used sweet white onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, plus small sprigs for garnish
To make the confit, heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, 15 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook another 5 minutes.
Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine is reduced and the onions are a deep golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Add the thyme; taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl to cool completely for continuing with the quiche.
French Pie Pastry (go to her site, trust me the recipe is worth it)
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Small heap of fresh or dried morels, about a dozen depending on the size
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper (she suggested white pepper, but I find the flavor weird and don't mind the specks, but you can do as you like)
Prepare the pastry shell and let cool slightly. I'm assuming that by now you already made the confit listed above.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. To make the custard, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, milk, cream, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
If you have fresh morels, cut them in half and soak them in salted water for 30 min to make get any dirt or bugs out of them. If you're working with dried, then soak in clean water. Pat dry with paper towels and sautee lightly in a bit of olive oil with a touch of salt. Set aside.
Spread the cooled onion confit in the pastry shell. Arrange the morel halves on top of the onions in a circle, or however you want. Pour the custard over everything and bake until the custard is lightly browned and set, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.