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MorelsMorels are perfectly camouflaged
One of the many delicious things about living in Kentucky is that we have prized delicacies like the morel mushroom literally growing in people's backyards. While the rare fungi can fetch $40-$100 a pound, intrepid hunters with a good eye can find them in a nearby patch of woods.
I grew up eating what my family called dry-land fish. Like squash blossoms, I didn't really know they were a delicacy until I saw them for exorbitant prices in a restaurant. My uncle, grandpa, and dad used to go out foraging (not that we called it by that hipster term back then -- they were just hunting). Some years they'd bring back bags bulging with the fragrant mushrooms; other years they'd return nearly empty-handed. My uncle Randy in particular was good at finding them. No amount of pleading would convince him to reveal his spot though. Morel lore has it that once you find a patch, you can return year after year for a prize haul. My grandma would batter them in a cornmeal-flour mixture and pan-fry them. Little did she know she was training a tiny gourmand at the time -- to this day, no matter how fancy the restaurants I've eaten in around the globe, I don't think much will ever top those morels.
Morel hunting is hard. You can spend all day in the woods and find not a single mushroom. The most infuriating part is they can be all around you, but so perfectly camouflaged as they are, you'll never see a single one. I thought after a few unsuccessful attempts that I just didn't have the touch. Then one spring morning two years ago, out for the second or third day in a row, I stumbled upon a patch that lives in my memory as if I'd won the lottery. I screamed like a wild thing, bringing my husband and mom to me from their searches nearby, hopping up and down like a deranged person. "They're everywhere!" I squealed, over and over, no hope of collecting myself. Giddily, I plucked them one after another -- some had grown so tall they'd collapsed. I could be finicky with so many around, and left the less-desirable ones behind. In the end we collected two and half pounds. I don't know if I'll ever be so lucky again, but you can bet morel season will find me in that same spot.
If you don't have your own morel treasure spot, it just so happens there's a surefire way to find some morels. A morel mushroom retreat April 13 offers anyone who can handle a five-mile hike the chance to pick some morels, enjoy a couple of morel-centered meals, and even take some home. Tim Hensley and Jane Post host the daylong retreat at the mushroom farm 15 minutes east of Berea. If my patch isn't lucky this year, you may just see me there.