Archive for Carolinian forest

The Morel of the Story

Posted in Food, Glorious Food with tags , , , , , , on May 22, 2012 by davegerry

Morels in May

Tis morel time here in the Eastern forests. In fact, with above normal temperatures across most of Southern Ontario this Spring, the morels are probably done for the season. I was talking about these bits of gastronomic magic at work last week and none of the other co-hosts had ever tasted a morel.

It  is a difficult flavour to describe . The first time I tried it was as a child and my father gave me a big pile of sautéed morels on toast. It was too much, really. It was overwhelming. In fact, I rather enjoyed hunting for morels with my Dad more than actually eating them. For me, the thrill was in the chase, not on the plate.

I became a virtual sleuth of the forest floor. The morels appeared in the woods behind our home for only a brief period (right around the Victoria Day holiday weekend) and you could never count on them being in the same location the following Spring. That made them a bit mysterious to my childhood sensibilities. I thought everything in that forest was tinged with magic…but nothing more so than the morel.

I will always remember the day that, while wandering alone along a path, I hit the morel mother lode. There were so many of the mushrooms amid the ferns and the bloodroot and the trilliums that I couldn’t carry them. There were far too many for my pockets. So I took off my t-shirt, tied the sleeves and the neck hole shut and loaded the improvised bag with morels.

My father could not believe the haul.We dried many of the morels and kept them sealed in mason jars for flavour bursts in the months to come. And we must have had the inevitable pile of them on toast, or in some pasta…or, even better, with a good mess of scrambled eggs. I don’t remember the specifics. But I will never forget the look on my father’s face when I plunked the overloaded t-shirt down on the porch.

Priceless!

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An Emerald Forest

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 23, 2010 by davegerry

There is a small stretch of Carolinian forest, thousands of miles from where I now live, that has as strong a hold on my heart as almost anything in my life.The truth is that the thought of the place rarely ever leaves my mind but the pull is particularly strong in the Spring and, I find, even more urgent around the 24th of May.

It is an extraordinary spot, bursting with new green life at this time of year. There is a creek that burbles along..nothing much more than a muddy brook…but when I was a child I thought it was absolute magic. It was full of crayfish and rainbow darters and water spiders. There were painted turtles in the side pools and sometimes I would lie on my belly, eyes barely above the greenery, trying to be as quiet as I could, while I waited for those frightened turtles to resurface. There were always raccoon tracks in the mud along the riverbank. I remember taking a cardboard collar, mixing up some plaster of paris and making casts of those tracks.

There are undoubtedly still mayapples on that forest floor. There are wine-coloured trilliums in amongst all of their snowy-white counterparts. There are jack-in-the-pulpits and lady slipper orchids. And I can state, with absolute confidence, that the fiddleheads have already pushed their way through the paper-like sheaths of last year’s crowns. I used to plug my nose from the smell of skunk cabbage and snap the stems of the bloodroot to watch the orange sap flow.

In another week or so the undergrowth will be so lush that all of the rotting leaves from last Fall and the broken twigs from Winter storms will be obliterated by this unstoppable vegetative carpet.

Morels in May

In the sandy loam, near the base of the wild grapevines, there will be morels. My father showed me my first morel when I was not much taller than the ferns and he instilled in me a kind of natural awe for wild mushrooms ( both in the dirt and the frying pan) that lasts to this very day.

I had profound solitary experiences in this forest. I stumbled upon a bee tree once, jammed a big stick up into the trunk and withdrew a sopping, gooey branch just loaded with honey. I found the creek so full of suckers in the Spring that I could almost walk across their frantic wriggling backs. I still remember my heart leaping into my throat when a big ring-necked pheasant exploded from under my feet one quiet morning while I was poking through the underbrush. I can hear the cry of blue jays in the branches overhead. I can still see the fireflies appearing in the gloom between the trees as I hurried home too late after dusk.

This is the Eastern forest of my youth. When I moved my family to British Columbia I was flabbergasted by the coastal counterpart. You feel insignificant in a West coast rain forest. The trees are impossibly big. The ferns look like something out of  The Lost World. You are walking inside an Emily Carr painting. It is indescribably beautiful but, at least for me, it was never truly embraceable. I wanted a forest I could feel part of. I wanted to be able to connect. As I say, that stand of timber is a long way away but when I close my eyes I can be there in a flash.

I visit this place every time I go home..for it still feels like home though I haven’t lived there for decades. It’s my pilgrimage. It’s busier now. There are bike paths and joggers and lots of people walking dogs. I see that the city is thinking about putting a small concrete bridge over the creek.

But despite the inevitable congestion it is saturated with memories. I saw it at its best..at a time in life when it seemed to be mine, when I was naive enough to believe that I was the only one who could know all of its secrets. We should all be so lucky as to feel this connected to one spot. If you go back and find that some trace of it still exists…you are blessed.