Merkels? You mean like when “God came down and stopped the bullets?” (Pulp Fiction). No, I mean one of nature’s most tasty fungi. Merkels or more properly known as Morel Mushrooms are a delicious spring treat that many mushroom hunters or “shroomers” go searching for each season. Since the Merkel season overlaps the spring gobbler season here in Virginia, you can bet that many a turkey hunter keeps his/her eye out for the tall brain-like looking cones that start to sprout up around mid-season.
You can find these delectables around the bases of sycamore and ash trees throughout the eastern hardwood forests where the soils are moist and while temperatures are still relatively cool (peak season is mid April through mid May around here). My biggest plunder was discovered under a big mulberry tree growing in the center of an old white pine grove where I pulled 14 hand-length Merkels from their beds.
Although these mushrooms are a great find, one must be careful of other similar looking fungi that won’t be so friendly. A good knowledge of identifying characteristics should be had before randomly picking mushrooms and eating them. The best thing a new Merkel hunter can do is to find someone with experience to show you prime locations and your target finds. If no such person is available, the internet is full of great info and your local bookstore probably caries an Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Fungi or other similar texts that are fantastic reference guides.
So, now that you have found a batch of tasty Merkels, what is the best way to fix them? Well, simple is often the best recipe and it doesn’t get much simpler than this.
As many Merkels as you can find
Salt & Pepper
Cut the base of the stems off just above what was ground level (if you pulled them up instead of cutting them at the time of harvest). Then rinse them thoroughly in cold water to remove any remaining soil or visible debris. Split them lengthwise and soak them in water in the refrigerator for about 2 hours prior to preparing to eat. Many little critters call the mushrooms “home” so do not be alarmed or put off by the sight of emerging bugs. That’s the point of the short soak. Remove them from the water and give one more quick rinse. Then pat dry with a clean towel or paper towel.
The number of Merkels found per season can vary greatly and I am one who likes to eat them the morning I found them, regardless if its 1 or 14. Since the amount of flour, eggs, etc will depend upon the number of mushrooms you are preparing, I can not give an exact amount and honestly, it’s not crucial if you are all that precise. But let’s say you had 4 Merkels (8 halves). I would use 1 cup of flour, a teaspoon of salt and pepper, 2 eggs, and 3 Tablespoons of milk.
Essentially, you are going to scramble as many eggs as needed with the milk in which to dredge each mushroom half through prior to patting with flour. Have you ever patted oysters? Same kind of thing here. Mix the salt and pepper with the flour and melt enough butter in a skillet large enough to accommodate your haul or at least your first batch.
Dredge the mushroom half through the egg batter, pat with flour until well covered and place in the skillet on medium-high heat. When the flour turns to a golden brown flip and fry the other side. Usually pretty quick, about 2-3 min a side.
Remove and place on a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb any excess grease. They are ready to eat as is but I also like to dip them in ketchup. I find that the tops when prepared in this way have a similar taste and texture to that of fried oysters.