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There are no boundaries to scoring morel mushrooms

Morel mushrooms spring from the ground in Michigan.
State of Michigan

This next story is about a late-night call from a dealer and a sketchy interaction near the Leelanau Peninsula. 

Hour Detroit’s restaurant critic and wine writer Chris Cook tells us about an exhilarating experience he recently had that landed him with a stash of morels.

One night last month my wife and I ventured out from our rented Leelanau Peninsula cottage to a gathering spot where we heard the fried chicken reigns supreme.

After we had settled into our table, our chatty and personable waitress mentioned that a male acquaintance had been in the woods that very morning and stumbled into a massive cache of fresh morels.

He had collected all of it, several pounds, she said, and wanted to sell them. Plus, she said, he’s out of work and needs money.

We’ll certainly buy a pound, I say, and give her my cell phone number. 

We pay the bill and head back to our new digs just down the road.

At about 10 p.m., my cell phones rang.

"Hello, this is John, you wanted to buy some stuff?"

"Some stuff," I ask?

"Yes, mushrooms. Buy some mushrooms."

"Oh, yes, morels. Right," I answer.

"Can you meet me?" he asks.

“Well, yes. When?" I say.

“Now. Where are you?" he responds.

We agree to meet in 15 minutes. So, in the dark of a moonless night, I head north to a pre-arranged drop spot in a parking lot.

Driving to the meeting, I get this sense of déjà vu. This is mysteriously like going to buy pot back in college. For a second I get a recall flash of worrying about cops. Is there a risk of getting busted for this?  

I pull into the meeting spot, and it is pitch dark. No hidden cop cars. Just me and the crickets.

Barely a minute goes by, when at high speed a mini-SUV makes the corner, his lights pass over me, I let him see me, size me up. He parks tail inward; I'm guessing he doesn't want me to see his license plate.

John, a stocky man, and his girlfriend emerge from the the truck.

No greeting. We know why we are here.

"Here, it is,” he says, holding out a brown supermarket bag crammed with morels.

What am I supposed to do now?  The bag is full of morels of a size I've never seen before.

"Oh, I only wanted one pound," I say, sheepishly.

"That wasn't the deal," says John, a little irritated. I know trouble about to happen when I hear it.

"OK, I'll take it all and figure it out later," I say.

I cough up another $20, and take the whole bag off his hands.

He’s back in his truck and gone before I can grab my door handle.

I plunk with my new stash, about three or four pounds of these things, on my passenger seat, and head back south into that last post-sunset shoreline glow, feeling oddly exhilarated.

I kick back my seat, crank the radio. Yes, this is my kind of deal! Pretty exciting for a guy about to turn 70. Well beyond the Zigzag roller years.

My kick these days? Breaking out the mushroom brush, cleaning, washing, and prepping these babies for a great creamed morel sauce to go on a juicy strip steak.

With a great bottle of red wine, of course.

– Chris Cook, chief wine and restaurant critic for Hour Detroit Magazine

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