While researching the internet, I was surprised by the number of sources that claim wrinkled thimble-caps (Verpa bohemica) are poisonous. It is a delicious mushroom that the internet clouded in myths.
The early morel (aka wrinkled thimble-cap), like all edible wild mushrooms, requires heat preparation. It doesn’t contain any poisonous compounds that would survive cooking. It can, however, cause an allergic reaction in some individuals, which is probably the cause of the myths.
I recommend that, before eating an early morel meal for the first time, you taste a small bit of the mushrooms to make sure that you are not allergic to them.
Also, make sure that you cook them properly. Raw early morels (and true morels as well) can cause gastrointestinal upset.
Are they “early false morels”?
Early morels may not be true morels, but calling them “early false morels” is misleading. Early morels are closely related to true morels in the family Morchellacae, while the false morels of Gyromitra species belong to the Discinacae family is just wrong.
Common names don’t follow scientific taxonomy, and that can cause confusion. A single misleading source is then often copied onto many blogs, and so myths are born. To learn more about early morels and to have both your morels and false morels identified, you can join the Facebook group False morels demystified.
Identifying early morels
An early morel has a thimble-shaped yellow or brown wrinkled brain-like cap up to 2.5 inches tall and 2 inches wide, which is free, only attached at the top of a light-colored stem, which may be up to 4.5 inches long and 1 inch thick. It has no distinct aroma.
The older specimens may become hollow.
Where to look for them
Early morels prefer alkaline soil with a lot of nutrients in semi-sunny sites in groves. They affiliate with several tree species, most notably poplar and cherry, but also blackthorn, hawthorn, ash, rowan, and elm.
You can find them during spring. They usually appear about 2 weeks before true morels do — usually, they are the first spring mushroom.
Cooking early morels
Flavor-wise, early morels are very similar to true morels. Sautéing them in butter is probably the most popular method of preparation, but they will shine in soups and sauces as well. You can use them in the same recipes as morels, except for stuffing recipes, as early morels aren’t hollow.
The best way to preserve early morels is by dehydration. Slice them and put them in a warm, dry place for about 2 days until they become crunchy. Store them in a sealed jar, in a cold dark place. If properly sealed, they may last for years.
Are you going to forage early morels?
Originally published at my now closed blog.