by Mel Sweet

“If you identify with the landscape…if you’re eating from the landscape and it’s making your body, you can see the landscape as an extension of your own body. You recognize that you are made up of this space and that’s why you don’t want to destroy this place.”

– Urban Scout

One thing I learned early on in living as a Cascadian is that it is imperative to begin harvesting local and wild foods. There are many lessons in eating foods that grow where we reside. As the winter winds transform to spring life blossoms far and wide. The morel mushroom grows in forests across Cascadia and the dry side is no exception. When the thunder heads begin to roll over my home in the upper Deschutes watershed I know it is time to start scouting.

Morels are an extremely mysterious mushroom. They grow where they want and when they want and delightfully have yet to be replicated commercially. While fire zones tend to be a good indicator, no set of standards guarantee success. One must learn the land around them and begin to train the eyes. They have many preferences but there are always exceptions.

In the upper Deschutes watershed it takes just the right ingredients and a little bit of luck. In this area they grow best in zones where pine meets fi r, however ground cover, setting, moisture and temperature all play in. One must become intimate with the surroundings and patterns to consistently locate them.

In many undisclosed locations across Central Oregon we head out annually for days of foraging and fun. Once one has been found for the season the adventures begin. Patience is probably the most important ingredient when morel seeking. Walking slow and softly with eyes continuously scanning the surface for any emerging rises or bumps in debris. Upon finding one, step even softer, for chances are there are many around you at that point. They tend to bloom in patches and an untrained eye often walks right past a plethora.

The morel mushroom is one of the most sought out fungi out there and morel pickers come from as far as Asia for the annual harvest across Central Oregon. The business is serious and numerous confrontations have arisen over “territory” by commercial pickers. The morel fetches top dollar on the specialty market and many pickers pillage over the land with little regard for the life they leave behind.

They disturb all the grounds by raking away debris so that they may fi nd them faster and with ease. This not only takes every last morel out of the  ground through uncovering, it prohibits any others from coming up afterwards. Please only purchase from a trusted local source if you must buy them, so that you know that they were harvested in a sustainable manner.

Morels are bountiful, beautiful and their taste simply must be experienced. One can taste the earth dance across the palate and it is undeniably my favorite mushroom wild or domestic. If you are unable to get out and forage I would highly recommend purchasing them from a trusted local source. While it is not nearly as satisfying as harvesting yourself, it is rewarding to know you are eating a wild local food nonetheless. Do make sure to rinse them and cook them well. A simple stir-fry with spring greens or a burger topped with a morel and garlic cream sauce is a good place to start.

Whatever your preference, savor the experience and let the life live through you.

The signifi cance of eating from the landscape cannot be underestimated. This place, Cascadia, is a life source of abundance. It is the corporate pillaging of this place that creates any scarcity. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we will confront that, the sooner Cascadia can begin to heal. We need to not only identify with this land from an environmental perspective, we need to start connecting to it with a deeper vibration as stewards of this place. Each of us ultimately is an extension of the land where we reside and re-inhabiting the land should become a priority for all Cascadians.