The phone rang at 6:30 a.m. yesterday, long before I had intended to greet the new day. But Sam Consylman was preparing to go out mushroom foraging and didn't want to wait to relay his news.
The morels have popped in Lancaster County, reported Sam, forager extraordinaire. Not very large, but plentiful enough to pick in the local wood. Earl Livengood would sell what Sam picked the next day at the Reading Terminal Market.
I made sure to set my alarm for the following day (today, Saturday) so I'd be among the first to examine this year's crop. Another fungi lover (who had not received Sam's call) spotted them on her early tour of the market and was starting to pick through the fruiting bodies when I arrived to snap this pic and select some for my own consumption. (She Who Must Be Obeyed avoids all fungi and other "ook".) My fellow urban forager said she had to be sure to set aside some for herself, because her 16-year-old son devours mushrooms of all types. We agreed that even the humble white button mushroom can be cooked superbly (she suggested a Russian dish, sautéed then mixed with sour cream), but that morels were, to use that overused term, "special".
My two-and-a-half-ounce selection of morels (Sam picked black, common and red morels, though I'm told the "red" isn't a true morel but is close enough for culinary purposes) set me back $12.75, based on the $85/pound price. (Last year they were $80). Earl Livengood asked me if he had priced them correct. Alas, he had. Morels imported all the way from the Pacific Northwest, which arrive slightly dry though still quite useable, were selling over at Iovine Brothers Produce for $60, so Earl's price, though considerably higher, wasn't out of line considering the quality and freshness.
By the time I left the market at 10:30, Earl's stock of morels had been depleted by at least 50 percent. I would suspect that they would be totally gone by noontime or shortly thereafter. It's possible Sam will still be picking them next week, but don't count on it. The morel season lasts a nanosecond. They'll be my lunch today, sautéed with shallot, then turned into a cream sauce over toast points. Sautéed morels also work exceedingly well with soft scrambled eggs, or just about any other egg dish. One dish I particularly enjoyed a few years ago was a sauté of morels and asparagus tips surrounded by a ring of savory custard (at L'Étoile in Madison, Wisconsin).
Another sign of spring could be found at Iovine's: ramps. These wonderful examples of a wild allium were fresh, with nearly pristine leaves, were selling for $3.99/bunch. Ramps should be available through much of May. I'll be cooking these pungent wild leeks (both bulbs and greens) with potatoes sautéed in bacon fat to go along with reheated brisket for dinner this evening.
Jim Iovine reports he'll be directly sourcing some of his leafy vegetables this season from a South Jersey grower. This includes scallions, spinach, all varieties of cooking greens, lettuces, as well as radishes and other veggies. He and brother Vin will also continue their contract with Shadybrook, which serves as the vendor's main supplier of local corn in season. Jim said he hopes for another great crop of raspberries this year again from Shadybrook as well.
Fair Food Farmstand briefly featured another veggie foraged in springtime: fiddlehead ferns. They received a 10-pound case earlier this week from a local gatherer, but it sold out the same day. They expect to have them again next week, so, buy early. I know I will. (Try them in Chinese stir-fry dishes where you'd normally add string beans or asparagus for veggie crunch.)
Another foraged food you'll see this year (at both Earl Livengood's and Fair Food Farmstand) is wild dandelion. But I wonder just who "crafted" the wild dandelion greens at Fair Food. The label writer should teach a class in writing oxymorons.
Plentiful sardines still available, at least at John Yi's. Whole sardines (herring) were selling for $3.99 again today. We're still a few weeks away from fresh Alaskan salmon.
For Passover, Flying Monkey had some delicious macaroons, a buck apiece for the large cookies. Lots better than the Manischiewicz version that comes in the equivalent of a coffee can.
Lease negotiations are complete for Jonathan Best, which will operate a high-end grocery in the space formerly occupied by Margerum's and, later, the Natural Foods Connection. All that's left is signing on the dotted line, after which the space will be spruced up and altered before the store opens. RTM General Manager is anxious to place a "tenant obtained" sign over the long-vacant space.
Another problematic space at the market is the stall behind L. Halteman, currently used as exhibit space. Halteman's expansion into that space will be part of their lease renegotiations.