MUSCODA - With Muscoda Morel Festival this coming Saturday, the craze for everyone’s favorite fungi has kicked in.
The one day festival has a lot of fun planned. The festival observes 40 years of morel fun this year, after taking a break last year during the pandemic.
One of the most exciting highlights of course is the buying and selling of morels by the Muscoda American Legion. The buying is currently underway, but selling will begin promptly on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. at the Kratochwill Building on Wisconsin Avenue.
On Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Mushroom Headquarters there will be the American Legion Burger and Beverage Stand.
Starting at 7 a.m. to noon the Lions Club CASI Chili Cook off will commence. The site opens at 7 a.m. with cooks meeting at 10 a.m. for a turn in time of 1 p.m. on Walnut Street near Headquarters. For more information visit Casichili.net.
Also from 7 a.m. until noon will be St. John’s Holy Name Society Pancake Breakfast held at the Parish Hall at 116 W. Beech Street.
At Mushroom Headquarters Parking Lot will host all manner of good times including the American Legion Burger and Beverages, fried morels (based on availablity), Meister Cheese Stand, Spurgeon’s Vineyard wine sampling, The Kitchen Cupboard and Maple Syrup sampling.
In the Railroad park will be Arts and Crafts, with a Flea market set up on Wisconsin Avenue at the school bus garage parking lot.
Additionally Bartles Chainsaw Carving Show will be set up at Wisconsin Ave and Nebraska Street from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.
There will be Thunder Showers Bounce Houses at Pickering Park starting at 9 a.m.
The Kindschi Pedal Tractor Pull will take place at the Riverdale Bus Garage starting at 11 a.m.
The Hometown Heroes Parade will begin at 3 p.m.
And the Muscoda Volunteer Fire Department Annual Steakfeed and Refreshments will kick off following the parade at 4 p.m. and operate until they’re sold out! So may your way down to the Fire Station at 701 N. Wisconsin Ave.
To round out the evening there will be fireworks at dusk along the beautiful Wisconsin River.
It’s amazing that one little mushroom can bring so many folks together for such a good time for the last 40 years in Muscoda.
The prized, brainy-looking mushroom is found popping up across the country anywhere from late March into May. In stores such as Whole Foods, you can find the mushroom for sale upwards of $60 per pound, for at times what can be less than a totally fresh product. Luckily here in Southwest Wisconsin, we are blessed with the mushroom in abundance under dying elm, butternut, and apple trees. As well as many other top secret honey holes that are passed along only to the most trusted of mushroom hunting comrades.
Morchella is the official name of the beloved morel mushroom. They’re distinctive with a honeycomb or brain-like cap composed of a network or ridges with pits. They’re highly priced by gourmet and down home cooks alike, but are said to be particularly cherished in French cuisine.
Throughout the country, the morel has many different and colorful names including dryland fish, hickory chickens, merkels, miracles, molly moochers, muggins and good ol’ sponge mushrooms.
The scientific name of the genus Morchella is derived from Morchel, an old German word for mushroom. While morel itself is derived from the Latin Maurus meaning brown.
The ecology of morels is said not to be fully understood. However, they appear to have a great dependency on various trees. The reported host trees of morels vary greatly depending on continent or region. In western North America, most morels are found in coniferous forests as well as cottonwood forests. Deciduous trees commonly associated with morels include ash, sycamore, and of course, dead or dying ems.
Certain species of Morchellas also may grow abundantly in forests which have recently been burned. It is said the behavior for this mechanism is not well known but seems to be related to both the death of trees and removal of organic material on the forest floor. However, where fire suppression is practiced, morels often grow in small amounts in the same spot year after year. Unfortunately the efforts to grow morels are rarely successful and the commercial morel industry is based on the harvest of the wild fungi.
While generally deemed safe, morels do contain small amounts of “hydrazine” toxins. These toxins are removed through cooking so eating raw morels is never advised. Morels growing in old apple orchards, which have been treated with the insecticide lead arsenate, may also accumulate levels of toxic lead and arsenic that are unsuitable for human consumption.
Morels are not improved by extensive washing or soaking as it is said to ruin the delicate flavor. Preserving them can be as simple as flash freezing by simply running them under cold water or putting them in a bucket to soak for a few minutes then placing them on a cookie sheet or pizza pan and placing them in the freezer. After freezing they keep very fresh with the frozen glaze for a long time in airtight plastic containers. However when thawed they can be sometimes slightly mushy at the cap so they are best frozen after steaming or frying. Many people also preserve them via dehydration. Drying is a popular and effective method for storage for morels and they are readily available commercially in this form.So no matter how you pick them, pack them, or cook them, getting out and enjoying the bounty of spring is a wonderful thing.