Seemingly overnight, new green leaves were sprouting on the trees, while green grass overspread the landscape. Lavender pink of the redbuds contrasted with the pure white of the dogwoods as they were liberally scattered over the hillsides. The sun was just peeking over Pilot Knob, and birdsong filled the air. It was an inspiring beginning of a fresh, new day.
It reminded me of the fragment of a song that Mom used to sing. It went like this, “Oh, the birds were singing in the morning, and the myrtle and the ivy were in bloom/ The sun o’er the hilltop was dawning, ‘Twas then they laid her in the tomb.” That’s all I remember of it, but it echoes in my mind on a morning like this.
How blessed we are to live in the hills when spring makes her debut. The only thing missing is the sweet cry of the whippoorwills. They were once numerous here, but now they seem to be gone. Our “adopted” son Scott, who lives on Buck Island near Charlottesville, VA, writes that their haunting cry is heard from hill to hill there. They speak to me of spring, and Daddy, and growing up in the hills.
Daddy always said that when the whippoorwill sings in the spring, it is time for the lady of the house to get up and start a fire in the cookstove. That harks back to an earlier time when the home was heated with wood or coal. I suppose that in the cold weather months the man of the house was required to build up the fires so it would be warm before the rest of the family got out of bed.
It’s not only wild flowers and songbirds that flourish in the spring, but it is the height of the morel season. Morels are that delicious and sometimes elusive mushroom that springs up this time of year, to the delight of those familiar with edible mushrooms. They are easy to identify, with their sponge-like, or honey-combed exterior. Black morels and half-free (we call them half-caps) morels are the first to appear, and then the yellow ones appear.
The yellow ones are at their peak now, and many large ones have been found this year. Frequent rains seem to encourage them to pop up overnight. Mushroom hunters are quite secretive about their favorite patches, although they can appear in unexpected places. My nephew came upon several big ones right in the edge of his yard!
Morels usually grow in the same place year after year, but may skip one or more years between fruitings. Morels should not be eaten raw—I found this out the hard way. We split and soak them in salt water to rid them of unwanted bugs, and once when I had a bowlful soaking, I casually picked one up and ate it. The next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance on my way to the hospital. It wasn’t the mushroom; it was a strange bug on it that I ingested. I make sure that our mushrooms are thoroughly cooked now.
Criss likes morels coated with flour, salt and pepper and fried in hot oil or bacon grease, but I like them better merely sautéed in butter. I have a fancy recipe for stuffed morels, and the ones we have found this year are big enough to stuff. (I use the word “we” loosely; I mean Criss and daughter Patty.)
2 cups morels (large enough to stuff)
2 cups cubed stale bread
½ cup mushroom or chicken broth
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup diced celery
½ teaspoon dried sage
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove hollow stems from morels and dice. Split mushrooms in half.
Mix bread, broth, egg, onions, celery, mushroom stems and sage; if mixture seems too thin, add a bit more bread. Season to taste. Stuff morels with this mixture and place in a well-greased casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.
Our West Virginia hills offer many wild foods—God has blessed us with an abundance of food simply for the taking. Foraging for wild foods is so satisfying and supplies us with many tasty meals. The pheasant back, or dryad’s saddle mushroom is in season now, and is easy to identify. It grows on logs, stumps or trees. It is fan or saddle shaped, with tan to brown scales on top. There are no dangerous look-alikes, and has an aroma similar to cucumber or watermelon rind. It is one of the few mushrooms that can be eaten raw, in moderation. It makes a nice addition to a salad.
It’s time to pick the tender, fresh wild greens now. Wild greens were, in former times, a much sought after addition to spring meals by our forefathers. After winter staples of canned, dried and pickled foods, they were hungry for fresh and green food. My father was an expert at picking wild greens, and he taught me to identify many of them. Alas, due to my bad back, I can no longer bend down to gather them.
As I told my husband this morning, I didn’t aim to grow old. It slipped upon me so insidiously that I was scarcely aware that it happened. I was painfully reminded of it this week. I searched the Friday Charleston Gazette for my column, and when I couldn’t find it, I called Kathy Mobley at the office to inquire about it. “Alyce Faye,” she said gently, “This is Friday—your column doesn’t come out until in the morning!” Is this called senility?
That day was my great-granddaughter Molly’s birthday. She stepped up on the porch with her boyfriend (I could see her through the storm door.) I called “Come in!” and they stepped inside, as I launched into my version of Happy Birthday. “Happy birthday to you/ You live in a zoo/ You look like a monkey/ And you smell like one too!”
The girl said lamely, “I came after the rabbit.” (Patty had given this girl a rabbit, and she had left it here.) In my defense, I didn’t have on my glasses, and she did look like Molly.Now my grandchildren are sure I am senile. Guess I’ll grin and bear it.
We have a wonderful promise in the Bible concerning old age that gives me hope. In Isaiah 46-4 it reads, “And even in your old age I am He, and even in hoar hairs (gray or white with age) will I carry you; I have made and I will hear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”