Morchella esculenta: The Ultimate Mushroom Guide
About The Morchella esculenta Mushroom
This is the most widely distributed and common morel in North America, fairly easily identified unless you are in the Great Lakes region (more on that little problem in a moment).
Morchella esculentoides is a yellow morel – which means it has ridges that do not darken to brown or black with maturity and a cap that is attached to the stem without a significant groove or channel. Among the yellow morels it can be distinguished based on its medium to large size, its egg-shaped cap, the random orientation of its pits and ridges, and the fact that its surfaces do not normally bruise reddish when fresh.
Infrequent finds in Britain and Ireland, Morels (sometimes referred to as Common Morels or Yellow Morels) occur throughout Europe. They are also reported from many Asian countries and sites throughout most of North America.
This renowned edible mushroom is a very rare find in Australia, where several other members of the genus Morchella are known to occur.
2.5-11 (sometimes up to 22) cm tall and 1.5-6 cm wide; usually egg-shaped with a convex or bluntly conical apex, but sometimes nearly round, or more or less cylindrical, or irregular; pitted and ridged, with the pits randomly arranged and oriented.
When young with bald, bluntly rounded or nearly flattened, whitish to pale yellowish ridges and grayish brown to dark brown or nearly black pits.
When mature with sharpened or eroded, yellowish to brownish yellow or whitish ridges and yellowish to brownish yellow pits.
In old age sometimes discoloring reddish-brown in places (see the sixth illustration) but not actually bruising reddish when fresh; attached to the stem directly, without a groove; hollow.
2-12 cm high and 1.5-10 cm wide (but sometimes much larger when left unpicked in warm, wet conditions).
Usually swollen at the base; whitish to pale yellowish or brownish; bald or finely mealy with granules; hollow (but sometimes becoming somewhat chambered or layered near the base when mature).
Morchella esculenta Health Benefits
The antitumor activity of a 50% ethanolic extract of Morchella esculenta mycelium grown in submerged culture was determined by the mouse solid tumor model induced by Daltons Lymphoma Ascites cells. Oral administration of 1 g/kg body weight of the morel extract resulted in a 74.1% inhibition in tumor volume and 79.1% decrease in tumor weight 30 days after tumor cell implantation (Nitha and Janardhanan, 2005). Later research further confirmed the antitumor activity of the extract against both ascites and solid tumours (Nitha et al., 2007).
Methanolic extracts prepared from the mycelia of M. esculenta showed high antioxidant activity (85.4%) at 25 mg/ml; for comparison, the activities of the common antioxidants ascorbic acid, α-tocopherol and BHA were 36.9%, 80.5% and 98.1% (at 0.5 mg/ml), respectively. Expressed as EC50 values (the effective concentration at which the antioxidant activity is 50%), the antioxidant activity was 2.78±0.14. Similarly, the reducing power was determined to be 1.25±0.06, the scavenging effect on DPPH radicals was 3.71±0.03, and the chelating effect on ferrous ions was 3.55±0.01. The relatively high content of total phenols was suggested to contribute to the mushroom’s antioxidative capabilities (Mau et al., 2004).
Anti-inflammatory activity of a 50% ethanolic extract of Morchella esculenta mycelium grown in submerged culture has been determined by carrageenan induced acute and formalin induced chronic inflammatory models. Oral administration of 500 mg/kg body weight of extract showed 66.6% and 64.2% inhibition of acute and chronic inflammation, respectively (Nitha and Janardhanan, 2005). Later work showed further elaborated on the dose-dependent inhibition of both acute and chronic inflammation, and suggested that the activity is comparable to that of the standard reference drug, Diclofenac (Nitha et al., 2007).
An immunostimulatory high-molecular-weight (~1000 kDa) galactomannan polysaccharide has been isolated from morel fruit bodies. This polysaccharide, which accounts for about 2.0% of the morel’s dry weight, contains 62.9% mannose, 20.0% galactose, and smaller amounts of N-acetyl glucosamine, glucose, and rhamnose.
The immunostimulatory activities of various morel extracts were measured using a luciferase reporter gene bioassay, where luciferase expression results from the binding of NF-kappa B. It was determined that at a concentration of 3.0 µg/mL, the galactomannan polysaccharide increased NF-kappa B directed luciferase expression in THP-1 human monocytic cells to levels 50% of those achieved by maximal activating concentration (10 µg/mL) of lipopolysaccharide.
The authors speculate that although the high molecular weight of the polysaccharide precludes it from being absorbed orally, it may have therapeutic effects by interacting directly with the mucosal immune system of the gastrointestinal tract (Duncan et al., 2002).
Morchella esculenta Side Effects
Morels of all types must always be cooked thoroughly; otherwise, they can cause severe stomach pains and sickness.
It is possible that morels can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
In one isolated case in Germany, six people were reported to have developed neurologic effects between 6–12 hours after consumption. The effects included ataxia and visual disturbances and lasted up to a day before disappearing without enduring effects.
Morchella esculenta Classification
In 1753 Carl Linnaeus described this mushroom scientifically and gave it the name Phallus esculentus - effectively associating it with the various stinkhorns, which are basidiomycetes rather than ascomycetes; however, it's easy to see how he came to this conclusion when you look at the chambered 'head' of a stinkhorn whose gleba has been eaten by flies.
The Stinkhorn and the Morel have several features in common: their caps are pitted and roughly comparable in size, and quite often they are found in the same kinds of woodland habitats. (Phallus impudicus generally is most common later in the year than Morchella esculenta, but there can be an overlap period when the two species occur together.)The present scientific name Morchella esculenta dates from Christiaan Hendrik Persoon's 1801 publication.
Other synonyms of Morchella esculent an include Helvella esculenta (L.) Sowerby, Phallus esculentus L., and Morchella rotunda.
Morchella esculenta Cultivation
The cultivation of Morchella species has proved difficult. While there are some detectable patterns in habitats and growth conditions, these are not consistent enough to be used for general cultivation.
Morchella esculenta Mycelium
Morchella has an important feature that distinguishes them from other fungi. This feature plays an important part in their reproduction and helps explain why they have been so difficult to cultivate. This characteristic is called the sclerotium. It is a big structure, with large cells and thick cell walls.
The sclerotium allows the organism to survive in adverse conditions. It also controls what Morchella will do when it comes time to reproduce. Morchella have two options for germination. The first is to form a new mycelium, the second is to produce a fruiting body.
Although the production of a fruiting body is a fairly simple process, it requires very specific environmental conditions to do so. Morchella will usually just generate new mycelium because the environmental requirements for this process are less specific.
Morchella esculenta Growing
Possibly saprobic and mycorrhizal at different points in its life cycle; growing alone, scattered, or gregariously in a variety of ecosystems: under hardwoods (especially living white ash and green ash, and dead or dying American elm, but also with many other hardwoods), under apple trees in old, untended orchards, and occasionally under conifers; widely distributed and common east of the Rocky Mountains; in western North America common under hardwoods in river bottoms or in urban settings in association with ash or apple plantings; spring (March through June, depending on latitude and altitude).’
Morels grow in the filtered light of forests. They grow under and around deciduous trees like elm, ash, and oak; frequently appearing before these trees have leafed out. Unlike plants, fungi like morel mushrooms do not make chlorophyll. The sun's light plays a role in warming the soil, rather than helping mushroom growth.
It's no coincidence that groups of morel mushrooms grow around dead, decaying, and burned trees. the nutrients released by dying trees and the leaf litter of the forest create the loamy soil that morel mushrooms thrive in. Wood chips, wood ash, and sand are also desirable soil additives for growing morels.
Regular moisture is very important to a morel mushroom's growth. Your morel growing area should be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Watering with captured rainwater is preferred to chlorinated tap water.
Temperature and Humidity
Morel mushrooms grow best in cool, moist weather. The quintessential spring weather of mild days in the 60's and cool evenings in the 40's with scattered rain and cloudy days will extend the morel growing and harvesting season. Conversely, when the season is dry and hot, morels quickly wither away.
Good soil is all the fertilizer morel mushrooms need. Compost, leaf mold, wood ash, and composted manure are all appropriate enrichments for morel mushroom beds.
Morchella esculenta Taste
Raw morels don’t taste good and are likely to cause digestive upset or cramps. If it is your first time, be moderate.
We advocate for cooking low and slow until there is a nice color for the best flavor extraction. Some prefer fried, breaded, stuffed, etc.
Morchella esculenta Nutrition Facts
Morchella esculenta, like all morels, are among the most highly prized of all edible mushrooms. Raw mushrooms have a gastrointestinal irritant, hydrazine, but parboiling or blanching before consumption will remove it. Old fruit bodies that show signs of decay may be poisonous.
One study determined the main nutritional components to be as follows (on a dry weight basis): protein 32.7%, fat 2.0%, fiber 17.6%, ash 9.7%, and carbohydrates 38.0%.
They are an excellent source of vitamins, such as B1, B3, B5, B6, B9, C, D, minerals which include – calcium, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, manganese, sodium, phosphorus, selenium, and potassium. They are also low in fat (1 percent) and calories.
100g of these mushrooms contain 34% vitamin D of the recommended daily intake.
Recipe: Morchella esculenta in a butter entrée
This recipe has been the Wood family favorite for many years. It is probably the most traditional morel recipe for many morel hunters. You can substitute the crackers with flour if so desired.
1 big haul of fresh morel mushrooms
2 lbs real butter (or margarine)
1 doz eggs
1 box saltine crackers
Mushroom Preparation – Wash and cut fresh mushrooms into quarters, slicing a long way. Soak in a large bowl of saltwater to remove and kill all those little pesky critters. Leave soak in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
Note: if you are not going to cook your shrooms within the next day two after picking them, make sure to drain the excess water and keep covered with a damp paper towel and refrigerate. This prevents your mushrooms from getting soggy and mushy. Drain excess water and lay on the cookie sheet.
Preparing the Feast – Preheat skillet (cast-iron preferred) and about 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat. Crack eggs into a large bowl and beat till blended well. Place a large number of crackers into a ziplock bag and roll with a roller to finely crushed crumbs and place in the large mixing bowl.
Place a hand full of cut and cleaned mushrooms into the egg batter and coat real good. Individually cover mushrooms in cracker crumbs. Place in preheated skillet (cast-iron preferred) and butter. Saute in butter for approx 5 minutes over medium heat turning as needed.
Recipe: Spring Pasta with Morels, Ramps, and Peas
12 ounces fresh morel mushrooms, cleaned and very coarsely chopped*
4 – 6 ounces ramps, cleaned and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (or 1 medium leek, cleaned and thinly sliced, plus 1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup diced cooked ham
¼ cup dry white wine
¾ cup whipping cream
½ cup reduced-sodium chicken stock or broth
¼ cups frozen peas, thawed
½ teaspoon snipped fresh thyme
Salt and cracked black pepper
10 ounces dried linguine pasta
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
Shaved Parmesan cheese, optional
In a very large skillet over medium-high heat cook and stir morels and ramps in hot butter for 4 to 5 minutes until just tender. With a slotted spoon, remove mixture to a bowl.
Add ham to skillet. Cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes until just starting to brown. Remove skillet from heat. Add white wine to skillet. Return to heat and cook for 1 minute. Add cream and stock. Cook and stir occasionally for 6 to 8 minutes until sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon. Return morels to the skillet with peas and thyme. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until peas is just tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted water cook linguine according to package directions; drain. Return to pot over low heat with sauce and parsley. Toss until well-combined. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve with shaved Parmesan, if you like.
Recipe: Pan-Fried Morels
2 c. Organic Flour
1/4 tsp. Cayenne Pepper Powder
1/4 tsp. Onion Powder
Plenty of Sea salt for brine
Morel mushrooms (of coarse)
1/2 c. Milk
1 stick Butter
First, you will bring your morels in a cool saltwater bath using water and salt. Your brine should be as salty as the ocean to properly do its job and you will need to let them soak for 30 minutes. Don’t be squeamish if this is your first time prepping morels, there will be little critters emerging from your mushrooms. This natural, the brine brings them out and with a quick rinse, you will have nothing to worry about.
Mix your egg and milk in a bowl.
Mix your flour and spices in a bowl.
Melt your butter (or frying oil of choice) in a pan on Med/Low heat.
Now you will begin by dipping your morels in the egg and milk mix and then rolling in your flour. I like to repeat this process a second time to create a nice crispy batter.
Fry the morels slowly to ensure they get the proper steam to develop that lovely flavor and keep the stomach woes at bay. I like to aim for at least 6 mins on each side. If your oil gets too hot remove the pan from your broiler and reduce the heat placing the pan back on the broiler once the desired temperature is reached.
Salt to taste and enjoy.
Recipe: Morchella esculenta Cream Sauce or Omelet Filling
10 ounces fresh morel mushrooms*, cleaned and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
1 cup whipping cream
¼ cup reduced-sodium chicken stock or broth
2 cups shredded spinach
2 teaspoons snipped fresh tarragon or basil
Grilled Steak or Chicken
In a large skillet over medium-high heat cook and stir morels in hot butter for 3 minutes. Add onion and pepper; cook for 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat; add brandy, if desired. Return to heat and cook for 1 minute. Add cream and chicken stock; cook and stir for 6 to 8 minutes until desired consistency.
Reduce heat to low. Add spinach and tarragon or basil; stir until spinach is just wilted. Serve over grilled steak or chicken.
For Omelet Filling:
Before adding spinach, cook until sauce is very thick. Remove from heat, stir in spinach and tarragon or basil. Cool slightly and stir in 4 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded. Use to fill 4 omelets.
For each omelet:
Beat 2 eggs and 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat 1 to 2 teaspoons butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until bubbling. Pour in the egg mixture. Push cooked portion to center of skillet, tilting the skillet so uncooked egg fills the skillet. When no liquid egg remains to place a 1/4 of the filling on one side of the egg and fold another side overfilling. Transfer to a plate.
Recipe: Heavenly Morel Tarts
8 ounces package cream cheese, softened
½ cup butter or margarine softened
½ cups all-purpose flour
6 ounces fresh morel mushrooms* or button mushrooms
½ cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
¼ cup dairy sour cream
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon dried marjoram, crushed
⅛ teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1 egg, lightly beaten
In a large mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese and 1/2 cup butter with an electric mixer on medium to high until smooth. Add 1-1/2 cups flour and beat on low speed until combined. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.
Meanwhile, clean mushrooms. Place morel mushrooms, if using, in a large bowl. Cover with cold tap water; add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
Drain, rinse and repeat two more times. Drain thoroughly; pat mushrooms dry with paper towels. Chop mushrooms (you should have 2 cups).
In a large skillet, cook onion in 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat until tender. Add mushrooms. Cook and stir for 3 to 5 minutes or until liquid is nearly evaporated. Remove from heat.
In a small bowl, stir together sour cream, 2 tablespoons flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, marjoram, and rosemary until combined. Stir sour cream mixture into mushroom mixture.
On a floured surface, use your hands to slightly flatten the dough. Roll dough from center to edges to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut dough into twenty-four 3-inch circles, rerolling dough as necessary. Using small cutters, make cutouts in the centers of half of the rounds or cut a slit in half of the rounds to let the steam escape during baking.
Place 12 of the circles, without cutouts, on an ungreased baking sheet. Place about 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center of each. Moisten edges of the filled pastry with a little water. Add the remaining 12 circles with cutouts or slits. Crimp edges together with a fork. Brush tops with beaten egg.
Bake in a 350 degree F oven 25 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Serve warm. Makes about 12 appetizer servings.
Recipe: Turkey with Creamy Morel Sauce
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
4 turkey breast steaks or 4 medium skinless, boneless, chicken breast halves (12 ounces total)
3 tablespoons margarine or butter
2 ounces fresh morels or 1/2 ounce dried morels, rehydrated
2 tablespoons sliced green onion
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cups half-and-half, light cream, or milk
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon dry sherry
Fresh herbs (optional)
Combine the 3 tablespoons flour, salt, and lemon-pepper seasoning; coat turkey with flour mixture.
In a large skillet cook a turkey in 2 tablespoons of the margarine or butter over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender and no pink remains, turning once. Transfer turkey to individual plates; cover to keep warm.
Cut any large morels into bite-size strips. For the sauce, in the same skillet cook morels, green onion, and garlic in the remaining margarine or butter for 3 to 4 minutes or until tender.
Combine half-and-half and the 1 tablespoon flour; add to vegetables in skillet. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly; add sherry. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spoon some of the sauce over turkey; pass remainder when serving. If desired, garnish with fresh herbs. Makes 4 servings.
Recipe: French-Style Short Ribs
2 pounds boneless beef short ribs
1 tablespoon cooking oil
¾ cup chicken broth
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
½ teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
¼ teaspoon salt
8 ounces morel mushrooms or other fresh mushrooms
16 baby pink or golden beets, or 4 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
⅓ cup dairy sour cream
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Cut meat into 8 serving-size pieces. In a heavy, large saucepan or Dutch oven brown short ribs in hot oil over medium-high heat. Drain off excess fat. Add chicken broth, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and salt. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, clean fresh mushrooms. If using morel mushrooms, soak in a bowl of cold, lightly salted water for 15 minutes. Drain, rinse and drain again. Wash other mushrooms by gently wiping with a damp towel or paper towel. Halve mushrooms.
For beets, remove roots and all but 1 inch of stems; wash beets well. Do not peel. Cut in half lengthwise.
For leeks, remove any tough outer leaves. Trim roots from the base. Cutaway tops leaving white portion. Slit lengthwise and wash well. Cut crosswise into 2-inch slices.
Add beets or carrots and lemon peel to meat mixture. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Add mushrooms and leeks. Simmer, covered, 10 minutes more or until vegetables and meat are tender. Use a slotted spoon to transfer meat and vegetables to serving the dish. Cover to keep warm.
Measure 1 cup cooking liquid. If necessary, add more chicken broth to make 1 cup. Return to a large saucepan. In a small bowl stir together sour cream and flour. Stir into cooking liquid. Cook and stir until slightly thickened and bubbly; cook and stir for 1 minute more.
Spoon meat and vegetables into serving bowls. Ladle sauce over meat and vegetables. Makes 8 servings.
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