Fungus of the Week: Morchella esculenta

These vernal delicacies tend to grow where you can least easily spot them – on burnt ground, in grass around old apple trees, or amongst bark and wood chips used to mulch flower beds. They can have a distinctly phallic appearance and they appeared in great profusion in the battle mud of the Somme, where the tommies, we are told to believe, referred to them as dead men’s … fingers.

Morels belong to the most primitive group of larger fungi, the ascomycetes. They can hardly be confused with any poisonous fungus except Gyromitra esculenta, which bears a comparatively shapeless hazel-brown head. A really fresh morel has the smell of Brie and a delicate mushroomy taste. Older drier specimens have a more meaty taste. To be honest, the pleasure is as much in finding them as in eating them, though they are very pleasant in creamy sauces with chicken or, best of all, with calves’ sweetbreads.