CHEROKEE EATS: Morel Mushrooms
Cherokee Nation citizen Tad Dunham, right, with his wife Linda at their homestead in Eucha, hold a plate of morel mushrooms found on their property. Morels are a springtime favorite among Cherokees in northeast Oklahoma. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Almost blending into their surroundings, morel mushrooms are found on the forest floor and sprout when warmer temperatures enable them to grow, most likely at the beginning of April. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Tad Dunham picks a morel mushroom on his property in Eucha. He tears the mushroom from its stem but leaving some to grow for next year. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Picked and cleaned morel mushrooms are ready to be prepped and cooked. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
As shown, morel mushrooms can be cooked in different ways. Cherokee Nation citizen Tad Dunham cooks his mushrooms in a smothered meat dish using round steak, sautéed morels, peppers, onions with golden mushroom soup and brown gravy mix. He also deep fries them using flour, salt and pepper. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Morel mushroomsWhen and where to find them:
Morels can be found in wooded areas in northeast Oklahoma near the roots or base of mature ash or “old growth” cedar trees at the beginning to mid-April.
“The big mature ash trees will have roots running along the top of the ground, sometimes 12 or 16 feet, and a lot of times there will be a mushroom growing along that root. And they will also grow along the base of the tree,” Cherokee Nation citizen Tad Dunham said.
Morels also sprout depending on weather conditions.
“You need warm nights, and if you have a real wet spring that helps a lot. Warm nights in the first part of April is when you’ll usually start seeing them. That’s when we’ll start looking for them. Warm days and especially warm nights, that kind of triggers them popping out of the ground,” Dunham said.
He said one year he found more than 340 morels.How to pick them:
When “hunting” morels, they grow in groups on the forest floor. He said when a person finds one morel they will follow up on several more.
“It’s kind of like hunting arrowheads. Once you see the first one then they’re easier to find,” he said.
He said when picking one to pinch the stem near its root and tear it away, but leave about a quarter to half an inch of the root so that it will grow again next year. Size and color:
Morels are recognizable by their honeycomb-like, ridged and lobed shaped caps. They can vary in size and color dependent on weather conditions and location. The average size, Dunham said, is about 5 inches tall and “as big around as a 50-cent piece.”
“You can eat the top and the stem both. I picked one this year that’s almost as big as a softball, and that’s the biggest one I’ve picked, probably ever. Sometimes you’ll find one silver dollar size or a little bigger,” he said.
He said that where he picks them, morels are tan to a brown color that grow near the ash tree and orange near the cedar tree. Cleaning, prepping and cooking:
When cleaning the morels, it is best to soak them in saltwater for about two hours.
There are several ways to prep and cook morels. They are usually sliced or chopped into about one-inch pieces. They can be added in omelets, chicken and noodles, beef and noodles, sautéed into dishes using different types of meats such as smothered steak or salmon.
“You can use morels for anything you use mushrooms for, anything you want to flavor food with,” Dunham said.
He suggests that if a person adds them to a dish, that they be sautéed first in butter and they will hold together better and not fall apart.
They can also be deep fried as a main dish. Dunham said he seasons flour with salt and pepper, dips sliced morels into the mixture and then into a pan of oil. They cook for a few minutes and have a crispy texture when done. Why Cherokees love morels:
“I think the main thing is the fun of going out and looking for them. Plus there’s more morels in the springtime than any other kind of mushrooms. They’re just easier to find. They’re more plentiful. It’s just an old tradition that the Cherokees have been doing for years and years. Sometimes it’s a family thing. They go out and look for them together. It’s something to do as a family,” Dunham said.