Chef Jon Mortimer has worked restaurants all over the country but chose to come back home to Idaho. Not only has he found a place in the growing city of Boise, he’s able to use wonderful local ingredients to make the most of his dishes. In his Boise kitchen, Mortimer begins with an appetizer of morel mushrooms.
Morels are found all over the state, but you have to know just where to look. Darcy Williamson Stewgall is an expert and leads mushroom forays near her home in McCall.
She says they pop up at different times, at different elevations, but mostly in the spring. Along with sharp eyes you need to know where they like to grow, and where they don’t.
“They don’t like pine forests, so anything with three needles, pine, they don’t like, they don’t like lodge pole pine, they don’t like ponderosa pine, they don’t like sagebrush steppe,” she says. “They don’t like buck brush, so what you’re looking for is old growth forest area with a combination of conifers. You can walk through any forests in Idaho and other places in the Rocky Mountains and be walking along and you’ll see in the distance maybe an old growth forest group of trees so don’t stand in the pine trees in the lodge pole looking around on the ground because you’re going to get frustrated. Head over for the mixed forest and then look for trilliums that have turned purple. Trilliums start out white and then they gradually turn to purple and that’s a good indicator that the ground and the season has warmed up enough to produce morels. You also need a season that’s wet. The thing with the hot, warm spring is it dries the ground too far down and then mycelium won’t get stimulated, won’t have enough humidity to produce the mushrooms so you have a scarce year. This year we’ve had a lot of wet cold rain so we’ve we’re getting a lot of nice morels this year.”
When you find one you need to pick it just right. She warns that you don’t want to kill the mycelium. “The mycelium is the underground growth that you don’t see. And that is the actual body of the mushroom and it can be quite extensive. It can travel quite a distance. The mushroom that you pick, the morel, or any other mushroom is actually the fruit, its like a tree and, and you have to pick it very carefully because you don’t want to disturb that underlying structure because that, that damages the future harvest. You can pick a morel in the same area for up 20 years, the same fruiting body it gets bigger each year as it comes up.”