Morel mushroom festivals adjust to early spring

Chris Young

Morel mushroom festivals around the country have either adjusted its schedule to account for spring’s early appearance, and others have been canceled.

For example, morel hunters in Shelbyville, Ill., who had planned to demonstrate their mushroom-hunting skills will have to wait until next year because the Spores N’ More Morel Championship Hunt and Morel Auction is postponed until 2013.

Meanwhile, the fourth annual Stark County Morel Mushroom Festival in Wyoming, Ill., will go on as planned, but it has been moved up a week to April 28.

“We have moved it up from the first Saturday in May because of the unseasonably warm weather, and the mushrooms are popping now,” said Duke Frisby, the event’s organizer.

The Stark County festival features an auction, rather than a mushroom-hunting event.

We just have the auction,” Frisby said. “That is our main attraction.

“It’s just a small-town event,” he said. “We have tractor rides, kids games, pony rides, and we’ve got lots of different vendors, mushroom-related items.”

But after a rapid start to spring, cooler temperatures might slow things down a bit.

“They will slow down if the temperature is below 50 degrees and speed up if it is above 50,” Frisby said. “Fifty-degree days, 50-degree nights and 50-degree soil temperature make an ideal combination. Add moisture, and they come up real good.”

Despite the vagaries of the weather, mushroom hunters like Frisby remain committed.

“There are mushrooms out there,” he said.

Prepare and eat

Most people prefer to prepare morels in the standard way: dipped in a milk and egg mixture and rolled in cracker crumbs before cooking them in a frying pan with butter.

“That’s basically the standard way people cook them,” said Frisby. “Or just cook them in butter.”

However, Frisby said there are other ways to prepare morels. One chef he watched cooked them whole and then mixed them with wine and asparagus and cooked everything at one time.

“They make this mushroom soup at the festival,” Frisby said. “Last year, we made enough for 300 servings, and they sold it all except for half a gallon … People went nuts for it.”

Frisby makes a wild rice and mushroom soup that also sells out fast.

“Right now, I’m heading into the woods every chance I get so I can get enough for the soups.”

Cream of Morel Mushroom Soup

1 pound fresh morels, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup diced celery

1 cup diced onion

1 teaspoon black pepper or to taste

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup melted butter

1/4 cup flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 chicken bouillon cubes

Cook onions and the celery in olive oil.

Stir often till soft.

Add morel mushrooms and cook about 6 to 7 minutes. Add butter, and slowly stir in the flour. Add the chicken stock, salt, pepper and bouillon cubes. Bring to a low boil, reduce to a simmer and cook 10 to 15 minutes. Add heavy cream and continue to cook another 10 minutes. For a thicker, creamier soup, thicken with flour or reduce chicken stock or add more heavy cream.

-- www.dukefrisby.com