Legends ran rampant as the youngest of six growing up in Glen Arbor, Michigan. Traditions were formed generations before me, laboriously hunting the undeniable King of mushrooms known simply as “morels”. My Father Dale gifted me this tradition and in the spring, when the trillium and leeks can be seen from M72 in Leelanau County, I humbly pass this mythos on to my sons and daughters. They now all hunt with fervor as they did last night hopeful to get a few for Mother’s Day dinner. We found a measly 7…
Indeed these traditions and teachings come in many forms: Never for example touch the protected trillium. Always pinch the morel just below the sheath when picking and allow the roots to stay buried. Of course littering or trampling plants was forbidden. Bad form would also include any semblance of whining. Break these rules and most likely your hunting season would be over.
It seems that the best hunters were always stealthy. They seemed to exhibit an all knowing calm and patience. My father commanded this and we also noticed it during our lengthy searches for Petoskey Stones along the shorelines mostly at Pyramid Point. The choices he made on where to hunt were never questioned. His instincts led him to remarkable bounties. I have memories of all six of us on our hands and knees crawling and giggling uncontrollably as we filled our brown paper grocery bags. My dad stood all knowing and proud tugging at his smoldering pipe.
The tourists or newbies to the morel hunts oftentimes researched the “where and how”. We heard them boast something like they had found 27 or so under a rotting Elm or Ash on the South West side of Miller Hill overlooking Big Glen. They may even mention a pH balance in the soils or wind patterns that carried the delicate spores in some particular path. I could tell just by checking out their shoes and clean hands that they probably hunted from their vehicle, which is fine, no judgement.
Perhaps the greatest memory of my Father now gone for over 35 years was the smell of his pipe mixing with a sautée of sputtering leeks and morels in a well buttered (never margarine!) iron skillet. His first batch would be offered to us with a toothpick and we would all surround this scalding skillet with an ecstasy unmatched. We respected this ceremony and shared graciously. After, a simple sautée of morels, leeks and Norconks asparagus reduced with white wine and finished off with buttermilk, grated Parmesan and black pepper over a linguini was typical for our sit down meal. Paired with perhaps some corn on the cob and wonder white bread slathered with butter and several glasses of cold whole milk. My mom oftentimes would make an apple cobbler with cheerful amounts of cinnamon.
So go hunt the morel these next few weeks with your family. Turn the television and smart phones off and cook with your children. Make them do the dishes and then all go for a walk. Hold each other’s hand and remind each other how much you love them. The morel mushroom if nothing else is an excuse to get out in the woods. Unequivocally, the miracle of spring is upon us, so let’s get outdoors and make some memories!
Captain Michael Sutherland
85 West 45 North