John Taintor Foote

Morels Sauté

There is a dish—a gastronomical ecstasy—the faintest conception of which is magnificently beyond the pen. The fork is the one utensil that can convey to the uninitiated the unique, the utterly sublime flavor of Morels sauté.

A Morel is—in the vernacular of the countryside—a sponge mushroom. It is to be found in ancient, unplowed orchards during the pastel phase of spring when apple trees blossom and bees zoom and bumble and hum in a languid shower of pink and white petals.

Close to a girthy apple tree, scabrous with age, pock-marked by the bills of countless woodpeckers, the Morels, now and then—alas, it is only now and then—poke up through the cold, damp, chocolate-colored earth and flourish shyly for a fortnight or so.

A full day's tramping through orchard after orchard may win perhaps two dozen of these tiny sponges that have absorbed the very essence of spring. They are almost the exact color of the matted, winter-killed grass in which they nestle to defy all but the most careful searching. A full day's work for each two dozen, but never was a day's wage more ample, more exquisitely satisfying.

Take the hard-won double dozen home. Give them in reverent silence to the cook. She knows—if, by the grace of God, she was with you so long ago as the previous spring—just what to do. She will plop the Morels into well salted water, there to remain the night through. In the morning she will place them in a colander to drain for half an hour. She will then transfer them to a frying pan of hot butter, where they will sputter and sizzle for twenty minutes. During that twenty minutes there will waft into the living room, where you are making a pitiful pretense of reading the morning paper, an odor straight from the kitchens of heaven.

You throw down the newspaper and burst with glaring eyes into the dining room. You seat yourself at the table and fiddle wildly with knife and fork and spoon.... Years later the waitress appears with a dish and then—I faint—I swoon—I cannot go on!