Morels are one of the first edible mushrooms to emerge in spring. They are also one of the most delicious . . .
This strange-looking mushroom is deceptively well-camouflaged. The morel (Morchella esculenta) has a strangely-shaped deeply pitted, yellow-brown to near-black, cap. This grows on a thick white stalk which emerges from sandy soil beneath trees or even amid short-cropped grass. It always grows on alkaline soil – in fact it grew in profusion on lime-rich bombsites in London after the Blitz. It is usually only 5 – 10cm tall, although bigger specimens up to 20cm in height do occur. As it ages, the cap tends to fade and becomes even more deeply pitted, allowing insects and woodlice to take shelter. These also like to hide in the hollow stem.
By the way, do be careful not to confuse the morel with its poisonous lookalike, the False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta) which has has a multi-chambered stem. This can be eaten when cooked, but is very poisonous when raw and there is evidence that even when cooked the toxins can be cumulative so it should be avoided altogether. Even the true morel can be very indigestible when raw, so this should also always be cooked. The flavour is superb, however, going extremely well with white meats such as chicken. Being hollow, it is particularly good stuffed and can be dried and powdered to use as a flavouring. Its timing is also welcome, for its arrival in spring heralds the start of the new mushroom season.