A morel with his­tory

The Saturday Paper - - Food -

They are the har­bin­gers of spring: as­para­gus and morels. Vastly dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents, but they fore­tell the joy­ous sea­sons of plenty ahead. Win­ter of­ten seems eter­nal by mid-Au­gust: the cold is bit­ing, the wet de­press­ing and it is hard to feel pos­i­tive about any­thing. And it’s then, if you look and lis­ten very care­fully, you sud­denly see and hear the change that is creep­ing in­ex­orably closer.

The joy of spring is com­ing. First it’s the birds – as the days be­come longer you can hear a shift in the bird­song at dawn. Then it’s the grass – it starts to seem greener each day. And then, in the dark rows of win­ter dirt, if you prod and poke about your as­para­gus crowns, you see the frag­ile white­ness of the new year’s crop start­ing to emerge from its dirty tan­gle of roots.

A lit­tle fur­ther north from me, my friends who live where the vol­canic soils have given way to sand start to walk their lo­cal forests, not with their heads up ad­mir­ing the canopies, but with their heads down, eyes peeled for the elu­sive lit­tle morel. The lo­ca­tions are highly guarded se­crets, the mush­rooms them­selves cam­ou­flaged amid the stones and tree lit­ter. But once found, what a prize they are.

I am of­ten amazed at how quickly our world changes around us. I, for one, am sus­pi­cious of all the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances that sur­round me that I don’t un­der­stand. But the world of pro­duce and sup­ply and de­mand also changes. On one hand, there are un­speak­able ad­vances in farm­ing that make me re­coil in hor­ror, but on the other, there is a soft change in pro­vid­ing care­fully farmed, for­aged and found in­gre­di­ents that 20 years ago were un­avail­able to al­most ev­ery­one. Across the land is a vast net­work of farm­ers’ mar­kets and farm gates that al­lows us to pur­chase in­cred­i­bly fresh and care­fully farmed food.

As­para­gus, from my own farm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, seems to have a sub­lime de­li­cious­ness. The closer to pick­ing, the more de­li­cious. Those sad bunches that ap­pear on su­per­mar­ket shelves, which have been picked and packed and trav­elled through a vast net­work of cool stor­age, are noth­ing like the flavour of the loose crop hand-cut by a farmer the day be­fore mar­ket. It also seems that some of my kitchen fra­ter­nity have hung up their aprons and taken up bas­kets and lit­tle knives to bring to the gen­eral pub­lic the won­ders of for­aged foods. Cooks love spe­cial in­gre­di­ents, and it seems that if they can’t pro­cure them from oth­ers, the joy of sourc­ing them them­selves in the wild out­doors can lure them from their kitchens into a whole new world.

Os­ten­si­bly, I would think of this recipe as a break­fast dish. Hav­ing said that, though, some days when the week has been long and harsh and com­fort is needed, there is noth­ing bet­ter than poached eggs for din­ner. As­para­gus, morels, eggs, chervil. Spring is truly here – let us all re­joice in the new be­gin­nings.

Pho­tog­ra­phy: Earl Carter

AN­NIE SMITHERS is the owner and chef of du Fer­mier in Tren­tham, Vic­to­ria.

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