Tag Archives: mushrooms

The Morel of the Story

April 5, 2017 by
Photography by Doug Meigs
Illustration by Mady Besch

Morel-mania usually begins around mid-to-late April. Inconsistent Midwestern weather prevents forecasting the exact start of morel mushroom season year-to-year.

Morel (aka morchella) mushrooms begin to flush en masse when spring rains alternate with patches of sunshine atop warming ground temperatures.

Morels are distinctive and easy to identify, with their porous and sponge-like brownish heads atop tan/white stems. Their caps might also be described as honeycombed and cone-shaped; they come in grey (smaller) and yellow (larger) varieties.

Foodies covet the delicious morsels of fungal delight. Morels are known for a unique nutty flavor. Popular recipes include: battered and deep-fried, scrambled with eggs, used as garnish, or dried for later consumption.

As a general rule, the morel season coincides with the blooming of lilacs. Morels also return to the same place every year—if their mycelium underground remains healthy. That means avid mushroom hunters often keep their favorite spots a secret.

If you see one morel, stop. Slow down and scan the ground. They grow in clusters. Morels hide in the deep woods, near the bases of old-growth trees, overturned trunks, and decomposing vegetation. They pop from grassy areas, near the banks of rivers, and on hillsides.

Along with monitoring lilac bushes, paying attention to the weather forecast helps foragers to prepare for morel season. Be ready for periods of sudden downpours of rain combined with warm daytime temperatures (70 degrees or more) and nights that linger above 40 degrees for at least four days in a row.

If you anticipate a sunny day following a torrential spring downpour, get ready. Put on your rain jacket, and rush to your favorite mushrooming spot as soon as the rains lift.

Grab some good mud boots (or old sneakers), and make sure you have a mesh bag that allows the mushrooms’ spores to escape and spread. Local outdoors shops sell mesh bags for morels. Onion or potato sacks from the grocery store also work well.

If you’ve never been mushroom hunting, it’s time to start begging friends to show you how. Or, do a little research and go explore any publicly accessible backwoods along local rivers.

There are several popular local destinations for morel hunters. But any densely vegetated public land (with plenty of overturned trees) along the Missouri River or Platte River could yield a plentiful haul of morels. That is, if the area hasn’t been picked over already.

The website morels.com hosts a useful and interesting Nebraska forum. Other useful resources can be found at thegreatmorel.com, morelhunters.com, and the “Nebraska Morels” Facebook group.

Beware of gun-toting hunters in the woods. Morel season corresponds with the spring turkey hunting season. Also, avoid trespassing. Common courtesy (and the law) necessitates seeking permission to hunt for mushrooms on private property.

Remember that wild mushrooms can be deadly. Only pick and cook mushrooms you can identify with complete confidence. Search online for “false morels” and make sure you can tell the difference. False morels are poisonous.

In 2016, the website of Nebraska Game and Parks maintained weekly morel reports from April 13 through May 11. The Game and Parks website also provides tips for locating morels, and even suggests a few popular mushroom hunting grounds.

Proactive scouting is a good strategy—if only to monitor the human traffic in the woods. The morel season around Omaha usually only lasts from two to four weeks, depending on weather conditions. Sometimes the peak of the season takes place in May.

Evidence of over-picked stems and decaying mushrooms indicate that the morel season is well progressed.

Remember: if you share a mushroom hunting spot with a “friend,” there is a very good chance they will tell someone else. Then, all those other folks might just go pick all the morels while you’re stuck at work, in school, or caught in some other less fulfilling endeavor.

Heed the moral of this morel story. When the lilacs bloom, somebody is probably picking over your favorite morel grounds. So, if you’ve got a good spot, consider keeping it a secret.

Visit outdoornebraska.gov/morel for more information.

Morel Mushroom Hunting Sites

Suggested by Nebraska Game and Parks:

Public areas near rivers:

  • Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
  • Indian Cave State Park
  • Louisville State Recreation Area
  • Platte River State Park
  • Schramm Park State Recreation Area
  • Two Rivers State Recreation Area

Old-growth forests and creeks at:

  • Branched Oak State Recreation Area
  • Burchard Wildlife Management Area
  • Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area
  • Pawnee Lake State Recreation Area
  • Twin Lakes Wildlife Management Area
  • Yellow Banks Wildlife Management Area

 

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Maker of Chefs, Feeder of Children

October 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a culture where top chefs enjoy celebrity status, Omaha Salvation Army Kroc Center executive chef Kevin Newlin manages to stay humble and grounded. In fact, Newlin was confused as to why anyone would want to write a profile about him.

Don’t be fooled by his modesty. Newlin has trained some of Omaha’s top chefs during his tenure at Metropolitan Community College, and he is doing crucially important culinary work for the community. His Kroc Center programs have introduced countless kids to fresh foods that they might not otherwise eat.

“Sometimes kids will see blueberries or cucumbers or mushrooms, and they seriously will not know what it is because they’ve never seen it fresh before,” says Newlin. One of his favorite tricks is to first give kids cucumber slices, and then a couple days later give them pickles and explain the correlation. “To see the looks on their faces when they realize the pickle used to be a cucumber is fascinating, and it’s really something that drives me in my career where I am right now,” he says.

The summer feeding program offered by the Kroc Center (funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture) has grown exponentially. “We served just under 10,000 fresh, hot meals from May 23 to Aug. 12,” says Newlin. He’s responsible for rallying the food donations that help make this program possible, and he also plans and prepares the meals. “The kids get fresh food every day. We try to use fresh food as much as possible, but we’re restricted by budget.”

“Sometimes kids will see blueberries or cucumbers or mushrooms, and they seriously will not know what it is because they’ve never seen it fresh before,” says Newlin.

In September, Newlin was responsible for coordinating the celebrated Omaha chefs who participated in the fourth annual Kroc Center’s BaconFest, a local scholarship fundraiser.

His attraction to the Kroc Center was largely due to his desire to spend more time with his children. “I’ve been here since the beginning,” says Newlin, noting that before he accepted the role at the Kroc Center he was chief of operations at Metropolitan Community College’s Culinary Arts Program. His love for teaching compelled him to retain his position as an adjunct professor with MCC until last year. “I miss it because I miss the teaching aspect,” he says, adding that he also misses working with some of the people there.

His love for food is the reason why he also works at The Grey Plume three nights a week. “Cooking, for me, is a lifelong process,” he says. “Nobody knows it all and you’re never done learning, and if you think you are, then you probably don’t have food in your soul.”

Newlin says he noticed that his role at the Kroc Center has changed his own perspective when it comes to helping the community. “Since I came here, I notice that my willingness to help people has increased. I’ve always volunteered, but it’s more now.” Whether he’s conducting a cooking class for kids or running the Kroc Center Program designed to help people learn the skills necessary to obtain a Douglas County food handlers card, Newlin is busy helping others.

“I love to feed people,” says Newlin with a shrug, trying to sum up everything he does in simple terms. He isn’t looking for praise. He simply wants to share his love for food with others.

Visit omahakroc.org for more information.

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Hunting Fall Oyster Mushrooms

October 7, 2016 by
Photography by Doug Meigs

Fall is the season when local woodland wanderers stock cellars with oyster mushrooms. These fungi are no secret to Nebraska mushroom hunters. The white-to-tan fan-shaped, or oyster-shell shaped, mushrooms sprout from the sides of trees and logs. Given the right conditions, they will even pop through snowmelt. A single find is often bountiful; a good haul of oyster mushrooms can exceed 20 pounds. They can be dried, pickled, or canned. They pair well with nearly every dish. Oyster mushrooms make an extra-special stuffing for your Thanksgiving guests.

Chris Wright is a mycologist with special interest in oyster mushrooms. Wright has a Ph.D. in plant, soil, and microbial sciences and is the executive director of Midwest American Mycological Information. He researches how oyster mushrooms break down biopollutants.

Patrick McGee approaches a tree laden with oyster mushrooms.

Patrick McGee approaches a tree laden with oyster mushrooms.

Wright also regularly finds and eats wild oyster mushrooms. He points out three species of these mushrooms in the Midwest region: Pleurotus ostreatus (the predominant species), Pleurotus populinus (characterized by a white to pink fan), and Pleurotus pulmonarius (the so-called lung-shaped oyster). They are not difficult to identify. Wright says decurrent gills (those running down the stalk) are a distinguishing characteristic of oyster mushrooms. The fungi also have a white to lilac spore print on paper. Wright says it is difficult to mistake something poisonous for oyster mushrooms; however, there is one poisonous look-alike that mushroom hunters should be aware of—Pleurocyubella porrigens.

When asked where to find oyster mushrooms, Wright says, “Look in the woods or on your supermarket shelf.” He also says oyster mushrooms are saprotrophic—they recycle nutrients locked up in woody matter, i.e., “They are a wood rot fungus.”

Oyster mushrooms can be found on ash, aspen, cottonwood, and poplar trees. They will push through the bark of trees after a cold rain. They can sometimes be found in public parks and in neighborhoods, especially on freshly cut trees. Sustainable harvesting requires removal of only the fruiting body and allowing some mushrooms to remain for reproduction.

Wild or domestic, they’ve become a popular commodity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from 2015 to 2016, the nation’s oyster mushroom production measured roughly 3,749 tons. In 2016, the total value of oyster mushroom sales surpassed $36 million. Whether you buy them or find them, Wright says they all smell “mushroomy.”

“It is a mild smell. Not a strong odor,” he says. “They will pick up the flavor of what’s cooking—garlic, etc.”

He says they have a relatively soft texture and are a nice complement to stir fry or steak. Wright thinks that wild oyster mushrooms differ from commercial mushrooms.

Wild oyster mushrooms grow in a great variety of hues, like a fall bouquet. They smell like rainfall—a trait that cannot be substituted. They are biochemically unique and may play a role in cleaning our planet. Native to the Great Plains, they are delicious and easy to find during this time of year.

Visit midwestmycology.org/Mushrooms/Species%20listed/Pleurotus%20species.html for more information. 

Disclaimer: Some varieties of wild mushrooms are poisonous, even deadly. If you choose to harvest or eat wild mushrooms, do so at your own risk.

OmahaHome

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Baked Omelette

Photography by Baldwin Publishing

Try this healthy omelette for breakfast, lunch or dinner. A delicious way to add vegetables to your meal, this baked omelette is packed with zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, and baby greens. This quick recipe is gluten-free, too.

Find more great recipes at HealthyKohlsKids.com. The Healthy Kohl’s Kids program is a partnership between Children’s Hospital & Medical Center and Kohl’s Department Stores to educate children and parents about healthy nutrition and fitness.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Cup diced zucchini
  • 1/2 Cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 Cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 Cup chopped baby greens (such as spinach, Swiss chard, or kale)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 Cup egg whites (about 2 egg whites), lightly beaten
  • 2 Tbsp low-fat (1%) milk
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs (such as basil, thyme, sage, or parsley)

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Heat a 4- to 6-inch ovenproof omelette pan (stainless steel or cast iron) on high heat until hot. Remove from heat and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Reduce heat to medium, add vegetables and sauté until caramelized, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg, egg whites, and milk. Add egg mixture to the pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook eggs for 2 minutes without touching.
  • Sprinkle herbs over top of egg mixture and bake in oven for 5 to 8 minutes, or until eggs set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the pan and serve hot.
  • Nutrition Facts: Calories: 186; Fat: 6g; Saturated Fat: 2g;
    Cholesterol: 166mg; Sodium: 398mg; Carbohydrates: 10g;
    Fiber: 2g; Protein: 24g

Yield: 1 serving

Omelet2