The Minnesota Table: Morels!
It’s a lovely book, one which proves that “Minnesota food” doesn’t have to mean endless recipes for hotdish and bars. The authors, Shelley N.C. Holl and B.J. Carpenter, have done a splendid job of demonstrating that locally grown food can be prepared in ways that respect the beauty of the ingredients while still managing to be accessible.
These are obviously women who love what they do, and love what the Minnesota landscape has to offer. (And that’s the least cranky buffalo I’ve ever seen.)
Photograph courtesy of Quayside Publishing Group
Spring was the perfect time for this book to arrive on my desk, since the authors have taken a seasonal approach to the subject, beginning with the foods that appear in Minnesota in April and May: asparagus, lettuces, lamb, rhubarb, and — oh lordy — morel mushrooms.
A trip to the Mill City Farmers Market on opening day netted me some. This was, in theory, easier than searching the forests myself. In reality, I had to stand in line behind a woman while she carefully selected two pounds of expensive morels from the relatively small box the vendor had. I was nervous, bouncing on my heels,
positive that she’d snatch all of them before I had a chance to get my mitts into the box. But the Morel Goddess was with me, and the Two Pounds of Morels Woman at last took her stash of pure gold and left while there were still a few mushrooms remaining. With morels, sweet asparagus from Loon Organics, and some crusty sourdough bread, I was ready to cook up a truly special dinner.
The best way to bring out the unique and delicious character of morels is to not mess with them too much. Ms. Carpenter, who developed the recipes for this book, obviously knows that, because in her recipe she left them ungussied-up and simply sauteéd with butter.
You have to wash them first, and this is the only tricky part. Because of all the folds and crevices, bugs love to hide in morels. These had ants. Remember, morels are picked in the forest, people. They aren’t cultivated in bug-free greenhouses. So I researched morel-washing methods online, and found two schools of thought: careful rinsing, or soaking in salt water. After attempting to rinse them without breaking off too many important and delicious mushroom bits, I figured out why a brief salt water soak works. It causes the ants to head for the hills, nicely removing themselves from the morels without your having to do it. Yes, that makes the morels a bit wetter, but I figured it would be easier to cook out a little extra water than to stand there picking out ants.
After drying the morels, I melted a goodly amount of butter. Sauteed until the liquid was gone and the mushrooms browned a bit. Added s & p.
And dished them up with buttered toast and asparagus.
Anyone who’d ask for more than that is just downright greedy.
It was a scrumptious dinner, a perfect tribute to spring in Minnesota, and a good test of an excellent new cookbook. There are many more recipes worth trying in The Minnesota Table — Crock Pickles, Sour Cream Pumpkin Pie, Apple Cake with Hard Sauce, and a quick recipe for Cassoulet. (I really have to try the Lake Superior Smoked Whitefish on Hardtack.) There’s also a great deal to learn.
Remember, this book had two authors. Ms. Carpenter was in charge of the recipes, and Ms. Holl did a ton of research about food production in the state and wrote some very compelling stories about it. There’s a great deal to learn here about how Honeycrisp apples were developed, how grass fed beef is raised, how endangered heritage seeds are saved, how to create a modern root cellar or freeze berries, where to find amazing ice cream on the U of M campus, and even a story about the Rutabaga Capitol of the World (which is, if you, like I, didn’t know, Askov, Minnesota).
Truly, I love this book. The more I dig through it, the more I find that I didn’t know. If you are at all interested in locally-grown foods, this book is worth having on your shelf, whether or not “local” for you means Minnesota. Just don’t get in front of me in the morel line.
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