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There seems to be a lot of confusion out there regarding the cleaning of Morels. What’s the best method? Is it even required? It might be different depending on where the Morels are harvested, but we found them often to be housing some type of small, mite-like insects. These bugs are incredibly tiny, and nearly imperceptible unless there are enough of them, and you look very closely. They are harmless to eat once you've cooked your Morels. However, I would just as soon not ingest insects if it's all the same! Besides, there is often dirt and other debris also hiding in the nooks and crannies of these mushrooms, which you definitely don’t want to chew on. With this in mind, proper cleaning was a must. Since I collected them over a period of 4 days, I was fortunate to be able to test out a few different methods prior to drying them for long term storage, and one method emerged as the most reliable means to clean these earthly gems.
The first day of harvest I "dry cleaned" the entire haul. That is to say that no rinsing or water of any sort was used to clean them. This was a particularly time consuming and laborious process (It took four people 2 hours to clean a 1lb), as it required that I first hand brush each morel clean with a small paint brush and cut away any unsavory bits. Next I would cut them each in half so the hollow inside could be cleared of dirt/mites. The mites really like to hang out in the hollow stems of the Morels so once they were cut, we would gently toss/bounce the morels on a hard, flat surface to jostle the mites out/off. Be careful not to be too rough with your Morels as they can be quite fragile, especially when cut. It also helps to work on a white surface such as a plate or paper towel. This makes it a lot easier to see the mites and more satisfying for your effort.
Once we had finished processing and cleaning all of our mushrooms, we placed them in a dehydrator, without heat, for roughly 24hrs. Since they were not rinsed prior to drying, they went fairly quickly. I was also very pleased to learn that the dehydrator drew out all the remaining mites and had cleaned our Morels further. However, the dehydrator really shrinks the mushrooms to near-nothingness, and since I had already cut them up to clean them, our beautiful haul of morels really looked uninspiring by this point. I'm sure they will taste great. However, something is definitely lost in the finished aesthetic of the dried mushrooms when they have been cut up. If you are the sort who likes to display your mason jars full of dried Morels with pride, then this cleaning method might not be best for you. That being said, I do feel this technique was the most effective at ridding the mushrooms of bugs and debris.
I had read that a soak in saltwater would naturally draw out and kill any bugs. So, on the second day of harvest, in an attempt to expedite the cleaning process and keep the whole Morel intact for drying, I opted to give this method a try. I let them soak for 30-45min. It is true that saltwater does in fact draw out the bugs. And the soaking/agitating also did a very good job of rinsing stuck-on dirt and debris free. However, saltwater seemed to turn the Morels sort of mushy and it made them a little more delicate to deal with when we rinsed them under cool water following the bath. Again I dried them without heat for roughly 24 hrs. The next day, I was shocked to discover that all the Morels were dark, shriveled to an incredibly small size, and very hard. Like little mushroom mummies, these definitely do not look like any dried morels I have ever seen!
I expect that they will reconstitute just fine, But I do believe that the salt from the bath caused them to desiccate even further in the dryer. I would not recommend this method of cleaning prior to drying. The finished product may taste fine, but they really look off-putting, and most professional forager/chefs will be disappointed. However, we reconstituted these for a mushroom pizza, and were pleasantly surprised by the results. They lost their blackness and retained their wonderful texture. I'm on the fence about this method...works well and the mushrooms still taste great, but boy are they ugly in the mason jars when dried. I also wonder if the salt affects the nutrient content? That question is beyond me though...
I found this to be the best overall method. On the third day of harvest, I filled a large pot with ice water and submerged all of the morels at once. I did not time exactly how long they were in the ice bath, however, I would say 30min - 1hr should be sufficient. The super-chilled water seemed to be every bit as effective as saltwater for drawing pests out of the mushrooms, and it also had the added benefit of firming them up quite nicely. I agitated them gently in the cold water to clear off dirt/debris and they came out looking bright white and beautiful; every bit as perfect as the moment I pulled them from the ground! Since they were presoaked, I naturally had to leave them in the dehydrator a bit longer. However, when they are dried this method seems to render the best looking Morels for display and rehydration. This was also the same method I employed on the fourth day and again the dried Morels came out perfect.
They say properly dried and stored morels will last for 25 years or more. While I have not had the time to put this to the test, I can hardly imagine any preserved Morels would last that long in my household before being eaten! Regardless, I wanted to make sure my freshly dried mushrooms would stay well preserved for as long as necessary. So, I decided to include a few food-grade silica packs in each mason jar. This step might not be entirely necessary but it certainly can't hurt.
That pretty much sums it up on all that I have recently learned about Morels. Again, I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL. This is simply an account of my experiences and observations that were made after a week of Morel madness. Take everything I have said with a grain of salt, and use your own judgment when dealing with mushrooms. Or better yet, get the opinion from a seasoned forager or Mycologist.
Do you have any tips you’d like to share or a story from one of your own epic hauls? Leave a comment below or share some photos with us on one of our social media pages. Happy hunting to you all!