Several people have asked me about the "false morels" of spring, what they look like and how they taste. This spring has so far produced some great specimens from all the spring mushrooms, so we can take a look at them. Morchella elata, the black morel is pictured on the left. A delicious mushroom that has many different morchella species, ranging in size and color. They are all edible, and easily identified because the stipe connects to the head at its base.
Verpa bohemica, the verpa is pictured in the center. It is a false morel which some regard as more delicious than the morel, but others regard as inedible, causing stomach distress and flatulence. It is easily identified by its stipe, which connects to the apex of the head. For this reason, it is sometimes called the "thimblecap morel," because the cap can be easily picked from the base.
Lastly, gyromitra esculenta, sometimes called "calf's brain," for its appearance, or "snow morel," for its ability to grow before the spring snows have melted. The Latin word "esculenta," means edible, and this mushroom is often regarded as delicious in Europe. It does contain a known carcinogen, and some regard it as poisonous. However, the true and false morels are often cooked together and equally regarded by some people.
The best of them all, in my opinion, is not a spring mushroom at all. The gray morel does not emerge until summer. Morchella tomentosa is the largest and most delicious. It is distinguished from other morels by the small velvety hairlike "fur" that covers it. These mushrooms can grow up to nine inches in height, making them absolutely wonderful for stuffing with a variety of flavorful fillings! In our region, they often come from Mount Adams and the wilderness to the east of Mount Hood.