Feature Articles: Food, Fitness, and Cooking and Produce
Extra morels? Freeze them!
Karma Metzgar, C.F.C.S., nutrition specialist, regional director, Northwest Region, University of Missouri Extension
With spring rains, an increasingly warm temperature, and trees beginning to leaf out, all signs point to mushroom hunting season! The morel is not only a tasty delight to humans, it’s also relished by squirrels, chipmunks, turtles and other wildlife. It’s all a matter of who gets there first when they pop out.
The most important rule of mushroom hunting is to know precisely and positively what you're after. The Missouri Department of Conservation website has pictures of edible mushrooms, including the morel. For your safety, visit this site before you go on a hunt: http://www.mdc.mo.gov/nathis/mushrooms/mushroom/edible.htm.
Here are some tips on identifying the morel:
- Although they vary in size and color, each true morel has a hollow, more or less cone-shaped head connected at the base to the hollow neck. There is no break between the head and neck.
- The second distinguishing characteristic of true morels is the pitted surface of the head.
- The basic shape is similar to a miniature sheared Christmas tree with a substantial trunk at the base.
- You can be fairly certain you have discovered a morel when you find a cone-shaped mushroom growing from the soil through the leaf mat.
- It will most likely be two to six inches high, in creamy tan or shades of brown or black, with a pitted head and hollow interior.
To prepare mushrooms for eating, they must be cooked. They can be breaded, fried, stewed, baked, creamed or stuffed with dressing. But first you need to clean them. Wild mushrooms tend to have lots of tiny insects in all those cracks and crevices. To clean, set in salt water for about an hour, changing the water often to draw the bugs out. Avoid over-soaking as this can dilute the flavor. Use freshly collected mushrooms within two to three days.
Often, hunters are lucky and have more than they can eat now and want to freeze them for later. It’s best to freeze the extras the same day as picked or harvested - not several days later when you haven’t had time to use them.
For freezing, you should use small to medium mushrooms and quarter, slice or leave them whole. Prepare mushrooms by steaming, blanching or sautéing to inactivate enzymes that can cause color and texture deterioration.
- To blanch, place mushrooms in boiling water mixed with either 1 teaspoon lemon juice or 1½ teaspoons citric acid to each pint of water - boil 3 minutes for slices, 3½ minutes for quarters and buttons, and 5 minutes for whole mushrooms.
- To steam, dip for 5 minutes in 1 teaspoon lemon juice or 1½ teaspoons citric acid in a pint of water then steam whole mushrooms for 5 minutes, quarters and buttons for 3½ minutes, and slices for 3 minutes.
- To sauté, heat small amounts in open fry pan until almost done.
After blanching, steaming or sautéing, cool immediately and drain. They can be frozen plain or breaded depending upon your end use.
To make breaded mushrooms for freezing: once the mushrooms are cooled, coat them with your favorite breading. Some coatings include flour, a mixture of cornmeal and flour, or cracker or breadcrumbs. Eggs, milk, or water work well as a liquid for coating to stick to. Then place in a single layer on a cookie sheet to freeze. Bag them when frozen solid. For best flavor, use within one to two months.
For more information about freezing, refer to the MU Extension publication Quality for Keeps: Freezing Unusual Fruits and Vegetables (GH 1507).
Last update: Monday, April 19, 2010