Heading north this summer to Lake Superior don’t worry about what to eat. There’s fabulous local available all through the North Shore as never before. While smoked fish and fresh white fish, trout and berries have always been a given, now there’s far more to explore. Cornucopia hosts a farmers market Thursday evenings from 3 until 6; Bayfield, Ashland, and Port Wing hold theirs on Saturday mornings. (You can’t miss them, they are smack in the middle of town).
My most recent find is Sassy Nanny Goat Cheese. Find it at all of the farmers markets and Bayfield Wine and Spirit Shop that carries an eclectic selection of vino’s at easy prices Sassy Nanny’s “Lake Effect,” a fresh spreadable cheese (terrific drizzled with local honey and hit with cracked black pepper); “Buttin Heads,” a sea salt brined feta; and “Cabra Fresco,” a classic queso fresco for nachos are worth seeking out.
Pretty soon we’ll see gorgeous Manchego-style sheep cheeses from Lucky Ewe, near Cornucopia. They’re aging as I write this and will be ready within the month…. check them out.
Look for morels when the lilacs are the size of a mouse’s ear; when the dandelions are in full yellow bloom, when cottonwood trees begin to green, when apple trees blossom, when snakes come out of hibernation, when turtles cross the road. Look near dead elms in the deep woods or ash trees or old apple trees in abandoned orchards. They poke up through dead leaves on damp mornings. They are light and cone shaped and honeycombed.
Morels are the result of “symbiotic disruption.” A suffering or dying tree stimulates the morel fungus inside the root system, causing it to withdraw. The hardened nodules, “sierotia” form below the ground and with enough water and light in the spring, they swell to form morels. When you discover morels in the woods, here’s what you do:
Cut the morels off at ground level. This protects the mycelium allowing more morels to grow. Put them in a clean container but DO NOT use plastic bags as these trap moisture and heat that encourage decomposition. Use paper sacks or baskets. Once home, store the mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator and DO NOT wash until ready to use.
Cook morels COMPLETELY! They are the very best when simply sauteed in butter or oil. DON’T EAT THEM RAW …An active enzyme in morels can cause stomach pain but is made harmless when they are cooked.
BEWARE of false morels, they’re nasty and dangerous fungi and resemble the real thing, but their heads are misshapen, their stems are NOT hollow, they’re solid or fibrous. False morels range in color from brown to deep rust. When in doubt, throw them out!
Here’s what to do if you find some …
1) To prepare the mushrooms, cut in half and then soak in salted water for about 20 minutes to clean and remove any insects that may hide within. Hand-remove the morels and drain on dishtowels for at least 20 minutes.
2) Slice and sautee in butter or olive oil over medium until very very soft, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring while sprinkling with salt and pepper to taste.
3) Serve on toasted baguette OR with scrambled eggs.…
Potato & Fennel Chowder
Potato soups are a sure bet this time of year; just the thing to transition gently into spring. They make a simple, easy, healthy supper. In this recipe, the mild licorice flavor of fennel adds a refined note. Add a tart green salad and you’re set. The soup may be made a day or two ahead and it freezes well. Save a few of the feathery fennel fronds for garnish.
Serves 4 as an entrée
2 tablespoons butter
2 heads fennel, fronds removed, finely chopped
3 large leeks, white parts only, finely chopped and rinsed
1 Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed well and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 carrots grated
1 bay leaf
4 thyme sprigs
4 parsley branches
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cream or half & half
Minced parsley for garnish
In a large heavy soup pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat and cook the fennel and leeks for several minutes, then add the potatoes, carrots, and the bay, thyme and parsley. Season with salt and pepper, lower the heat to medium, cover, and cook the vegetables, turning occasionally until they release their juices, remove the cover and continue cooking until they’ve lightly browned in places, about 10 minutes total.
Add about 6 cups water and a little more salt and pepper to taste. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Then, lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, util the potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes. Press a few potatoes against the side of the pan to break them up and give the soup body. Add the cream or half and half and taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve garnished with the chopped parsley…