A morel with history
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.
ANNIE SMITHERS is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria.