My father had a favourite expression when he came home from work late because he’d stayed downtown for a drink with his friends. “I fell among thieves,” he would tell my mother. I thought of his expression last summer on a morel mushroom picking expedition, when I fell among rascals. The first rascal showed up in our camp the moment we’d finished putting up the tents. He was sweaty, filthy with smoke and grime, and clearly checking us out. He was a professional picker, and the leader of the pack of rascals camped a few hundred metres away.
We told him we were not pros, but picking for our household alone. He must’ve decided we were okay because he came back a few minutes later with fresh morels for our supper and an offer: if we liked, he would take us picking with the crew tomorrow. In the cutthroat world of morel picking, this was incredibly generous, so we jumped on it. We roamed with the crew on a sunny hillside where the burn blended into intact forest. We picked many kilos, more than enough for our house for a year. Two of our friends showed up at dinnertime and, the next day, the chief rascal did the same favour for them. In turn, when they’d finished picking for themselves, they picked for the crew. Back in camp, we rotated the crew’s mushrooms on their makeshift drying racks and kept an eye on their stuff.
That day the chief rascal made an excellent sale. A local driver came to take 200 kilos of fresh morels to the airport. At three in the morning, our camp woke up to the crackle and pop of rifle shots, many rounds of rifle shots. We thought, bear? No, celebration. A good sale. We tried to comfort our dog, who was shaking uncontrollably.
The next morning, some of us were pretty mad. Me included. But then I remembered another thing my father had said once, about me, when I behaved badly. “That’s her dark side,” he told my brother, whom I’d injured by staying up all night in the kitchen drinking and singing with my friends, right underneath his bedroom, the night before his important ski race. “If you love Michie, you have to love her dark side.”
So we forgave the rascals for their unruly behaviour. We think about them, with wry gratitude, every time we dig into a plateful of the morels they helped us find.
- 1 cup diced onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 10 to 12 dried medium-sized morels
- 1 lb ground pork
- 3 tbsp breadcrumbs (if needed)
- 1 tsp grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp dried chillies
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 12 large dried morels for stuffing
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Dash soya sauce or Bragg’s
- In separate bowls, soak the medium and large morels in hot water to cover for 30 minutes. Remove morels from the water, squeezing to extract all the liquid. Reserve 1 cup soaking water, refrigerating the rest for stock or soup. Roughly chop the medium-sized mushrooms.
- Leave the large ones whole, but slice off enough of the stem to give you good access to the interior. Chop the stems and add to the other chopped mushrooms.
- Sauté onion in oil and butter over medium heat until soft—about 5 minutes. Add garlic and chopped morels. Cook for a further 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 cup soaking liquid and simmer until all the liquid has evaporated.
- Add pork and cook until browned, breaking up clumps with a fork. Stir in nutmeg and chillies. If the pork is fatty (never a bad thing), add breadcrumbs as necessary to absorb the fat.
- Add white wine and cook until fully absorbed, then add cream and cook until thick. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. Stir in grated parmesan. Let cool for about 15 minutes.
- Using a teaspoon, spoon filling lightly into each mushroom, filling it to the brim but not stuffing so hard the mushroom breaks.
- Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat. When sizzling, add the stuffed mushrooms. Sauté on each side just until browned, then pour in wine, cream and soya sauce or Bragg’s. Simmer until sauce has thickened to the consistency of a béchamel.
- Serve immediately over pasta or rice with more Parmesan over top.