Tuesday, May 8, 2012

#32. Go Morel Hunting

Morel mushrooms are a big deal in Indiana. The smooth-stalked, spongey-topped mushrooms are treasured by their dedicated hunters for their meaty, nutty taste and rareness. Morels resist domestication, so even the most savvy of hunters can never guarantee coming across the mushrooms.


Morels hunters have a small window to find the mushrooms: from early April to early June. They are most often found near dead or dying hardwood trees, as the decaying root systems nourish the mushrooms. 

As if locating morels isn't hard enough, morel hunters are extremely guarded about their knowledge of good hunting spots. The secrecy and rarity of the morels have led them to be called "truffles for the middle class," an allusion to the highly coveted mushrooms that can cost up to $3,600/pound. 

Knowing that morels are difficult to find, especially for a novice such as myself, I opted to attend the sixth annual Morel Mushroom Festival at the Brown County State Park. This would give me a chance to hunt in the park, but would also ensure that I would leave with purchased morels in case my hunting was fruitless.

My prediction was correct: I found zero morels while hiking through the forests of Brown County. Admittedly, I wasn't looking too hard. My uncle warned my mom to beware of snakes, so my mom and I were too afraid to do much thorough examination in fear of disturbing a snake nest or similarly frightening forest-dweller.

Serious morel hunter

Although we did not find any morels, the hunt was enjoyable nonetheless. I had never hiked through Brown County State Park before, but it is just as beautiful as I had heard. The park consists of over 15,700 acres and is the largest state park in Indiana; this provides ample land for exploration and admiration. 

Brown County State Park woods

The only mushrooms found on our hunt

Lake Stahl

After our unsuccessful hunt, my mom and I joined the long line of morel enthusiasts and bought a half pound bag of the mushrooms for a whopping $25. Although this was considerably less than the $1800 a half pound of truffles would cost, it was still a pricey figure. The things I do for this blog...

In addition to a morel sale, the festival offered music by the aptly-named band Jack Morel and the Spores and a crafts tent.

Jack Morel & the Spores

                                                        Morel-topped walking sticks

There was also a seemingly-random but nonetheless-interesting birds of prey demonstration.

Members of the Indiana Raptor Society speak about local birds of prey

Patrick, an American Kestrel
 A couple of girls even dressed up as morel mushrooms. The fanaticism was even found in the youngest festival attendees.

Morel costumes

After returning from the festival, my mom soaked our purchases in saltwater upon the recommendation of my cousin-in-law who is apparently a pro morel hunter. This solution extracts any gross bugs or dirt that might be found in the hollow mushrooms. She then rinsed, dried and cut the morels in preparation for a breakfast of cheese-and-morel omelets.

I thought the morels were kind of gross in the omelet. They weren't very well cooked and tasted rubbery and bland. I was quite disappointed in them.

Until I fried them. Fried morels are the way to go. They are incredibly easy to make, too. Just coat the slices in flour and fry them in vegetable oil or butter. Before frying they feel and taste rubbery, similar to bad pasta. After frying, they become crispy and attain the fabled meaty, nutty taste morel hunters treasure so dearly.
Before frying

After frying
Before frying

After frying
Even though my hunting was unsuccessful and the morels were expensive, it was worthwhile. Maybe I will try to charm my family's seasoned morel hunters and persuade them to let me tag along on next spring's hunt.

#3. Triple XXX Root Beer

Water is my beverage of choice, but when I occassionally opt for soda, root beer is my favorite. Its creamy vanilla sweetness mixed with the slight tang of sassafrass root makes for a satisfying liquid dessert. Whether it can be attributed to the trademarked original Triple XXX recipe, frosty mug or overall ambience, the root beer served at West Lafayette's Triple XXX restaurant is especially tasty.

Triple XXX root beer
The restaurant, the oldest drive-in in Indiana, is immediately striking, a boldly ugly building painted with wide vertical stripes of black and orange. While the outside may be somewhat deterring, the interior is wholly charming. Customers sit clustered together at a counter on rotating stools. Waitresses chat with customers, chefs can be seen singing and cooking and clients soak up the hearty food and old-time diner atmosphere.

Street view of Triple XXX
In addition to a mug of root bear, I ordered the Duane Pervis burger, an otherwise ordinary cheeseburger slathered with a layer of creamy peanut butter. While I will probably never add peanut butter to a cheeseburger again, it was interesting to try. The layer of peanut butter added an unusual creamy sweetness to the burger that was neither gross nor delicious, but merely existant.

Duane Pervis burger
If you look really closely, you can see bits of peanut butter dripping underneath the burger
Although the burger and fries were good, the root beer was the star of the meal.

After visiting Triple XXX, I toured the surrounding area with my boyfriend, a native of West Lafayette. We walked the quaint streets of the town and visited the town courthouse, a used book store catering to sci-fi and gaming enthusiasts, an antique store and an old-fashioned soda shop.

Lafayette Courthouse
McCord's Candy Shop
We then shopped the commercial Levvy and more locally-focused Chauncey areas. As an IU student, I couldn't help comparing these areas to Bloomington's much cooler Kirkwood area (I admit my bias), but the district was still appealing nonetheless.

After touring the more urban parts of Lafayette and West Lafayette, we toured the Tippecanoe Battlefield. The 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe was important for a variety of reasons:
  • It destroyed the Native American hope for the creation of a tribal confederacy
  • It brought great success to William Henry Harrison and provided him with credibility that aided in his securing the presidential seat
  • It heightened the discontent Americans felt for the British, who armed the Native Americans with British weapons
    • This fueled the chasm that led to the War of 1812
Despite its significance, the battlefield was relatively small. Standing inside the fenced-in area that was once a battlefield was an eery feeling. Today, the area is a pretty landscape dotted with towering trees and an attractive commemorative monument, but it is difficult to shake the knowledge that it was once a bloody area where the Americans carried out great injustices against Native Americans.

Battle of Tippecanoe memorial/battleground
  Taking a break from contemplation of human iniquities, we toured the battleground's Nature Center and trails. We crossed the Wabash River, which was surging with brown water from recent heavy rainfall. I was pretty disappointed with the river, which I played up due to its sentimental reference in the state song "Back Home Again in Indiana."

Wabash River
We ended our tour of the area with a quick stop to Prophet's Rock, a unique geological form where the brother of Chief Tecumseh  once chanted and sang songs of prophecy and encouragement to Native American warriors heading to the Battle of Tippecanoe.

Prophet's Rock memorial

Prophet's Rock
Although I came to visit my boyfriend and taste Triple XXX root beer, it was nice to experience the other Indiana college town.