Forest fires are a huge drag when they’re happening, although I have to say last summer as we watched this column of smoke rise behind Livingston peak, we were thinking of morels. The Jungle Fire was scary — it roared down seven miles of drainage in an afternoon — my friend Scott who was over there covering it for the paper said it sounded like the loudest jet engine you’ve ever heard. And yet, a few months later, here’s what’s happening in the burn — morels. Lots of morels.
I went up early yesterday morning and it’s fascinating up in the site. New grasses and plants are everywhere on the forest floor. The trees are burned, and it went through so hot that there are many many big granite boulders that have had the first layer or two just popped right off — shards of granite in piles around a newly-white boulder. And then there are the morels. I didn’t take my camera into the burn with me, which is probably good considering that the wet ash got on everything. It was so exciting — for a long while at the beginning I thought I was going to get skunked, but then I started following a little seep uphill, and there they were. Clumps of morels tucked into the root systems of big burned out trees. It was like hunting Easter eggs — look! Over there! Another clump! The dogs had a great time running big circles around me, and we all shared a ham sandwich for lunch, and I came home looking like Pigpen, with a daypack full of morels and smudges of ash on my face. The MH estimated I probably had 18 or 20 pounds.
These are the nicest ones, washed and draining. Last night we had veal chops on the grill with a morel cream sauce — morels, lots of butter, a little bourbon (since I don’t have any brandy), a little garlic and some cream. Yum. And then this morning it was morels and spinach with scrambled eggs. Tonight I’m thinking some variation on the Barefoot Contessa’s chicken with morels — I might have to see if there’s any asparagus left in the stores too — not local, but morels and asparagus are so nice together.
And then there are these, drying for winter: . Three baking racks full and my whole kitchen smells like woodsy morels. That fire was crazy last summer –it went up so fast and so hot that they found leaves and pine needles as far away as Wisconisn, but despite the destruction, the forest is doing it’s thing — it’s full of new growth and new flora. And the gift for all of us after fires like that is the mysterious bumper crops of morels.