The morel mushroom is, like other mushrooms, the fruit of a type of fungi, some of which are edible and others of which are poisonous. In addition, there are a variety of mushrooms that are called false morels because they are frequently mistaken for the morel mushroom. These two factors point towards the need for caution and expert advice if one embarks on the hunt for morels in the wild.
The edible wild mushrooms include chanterelles, coral fungi, morels, oyster mushrooms, and puffballs. Morel mushrooms, genus Morchella, have a number of nicknames. Some of them are hickory chickens, dryland fish, honeycomb mushrooms, and pinecone mushrooms, all coming from their appearance or taste. Their flavor is variously described as fishy, smoky, earthy, delicate, and nutty.
Their color varies, too, and is responsible for the common names of the most frequently found types: Yellow Morel, White Morel, and Black Morel. The common morel mushroom, Morchella esculenta, is actually the first two of these: white morel when it is young and has white ridges, and yellow morel when the ridges turn yellowish as the mushroom ages. The smoky morel, Morchella elata, also gets its common name from the color of its ridges, which start of grayish tan and turn black as time passes, therefore leading to it being called Black Morel, but they make better eating when young. Other popular morels include Morchella deliciosa, Morchella semilibera, and Morchela vulgaris.
The morel mushroom can grow to a size of from two inches (5.08 cm) to 12 inches (30.48 cm) tall. They are found in several different habitats, including river bottoms, moist woodlands, old orchards, and some in forests of conifers. They like to grow in spots that have been subject to fire, and are one mushroom species that is not farmed commercially, making them rather expensive. Spring and early summer are the best times for hunting them. When they are old, they can become soft, granular, or wormy, and these should be avoided.
Even edible morels contain some toxins that are destroyed in cooking: this means that you should never be eat a morel mushroom raw. Morels are incorporated into recipes in both fresh and dried form. Sautéing in butter is the most highly recommended way to prepare morel mushrooms, after which they can be eaten as is or used as a garnish for other foods. They can also be incorporated into cream sauces and wine sauces, broiled, and stuffed. Morels are also used to make paté and incorporated into a filling for puff pastry.