The elusive ‘Morchella’….

As soon as the winter is over.. the first wild flowers begin to appear.. there’s no more frost on the ground… it is time for the annual ‘hunt’ to begin.. One sees villagers, in two’s or three’s, lurking around in the bushes.. climbing slopes with thorny bushes, peering carefully into the bushes, below the cedars, sunny places, damp places, north slopes, south slopes… just about everywhere you can think of.

Morchella

It was then that I too got my knife and kit and told my family, that it was time for the hunt and unless we wanted to return empty-handed we’d better join the HUNT. Just as we started our quest and were eagerly talking about the catch that we might find this year when I heard a thrilled shriek from one of my team members…. aaaaand we’d made a catch…!!! That too right on the roadside… there it was between the stones.. our first ‘Morchella’ of the season. It is a ‘Yellow Morel‘ (I think), although, gone are the days when one could just look at it and say,… Oh it’s a yellow, or a black mushroom. With the new DNA studies being done, I doubt if it is that easy any more.

To find morels is not easy and I know that any true blooded hunter would never reveal their hard found areas to anyone. You have to know the right time, place and weather as well as have a lot of luck to find your catch. We just found three morels… but it was a ‘CATCH’…. They are delicious..!! Cooked whichever way you like.. For me it is , spaghetti or as the villagers cook as a vegetable.

‘Morchella’ or ‘Morel’ are called ‘guchhi’ in the local ‘pahari’ dialect of Himachal Pradesh. For the villagers who are hunting for them, it fetches a tidy sum of 3000-4000 rupees (75-100$) per kilo of dried morels.. which means that they have to collect 10 kilo of fresh morels to have 1 kilo of dried morels. It IS quite a lot of collecting, which is why the younger generation of villagers are not interested except small kids, who do it for pocket-money or the really poor. But these same morels fetch a tidy sum of 400 – 500 $ once they reach the markets of New Delhi. In order to compensate for the low price, the villagers would collect the morels by uprooting it totally from the ground and for a good measure with a lump of mud attached to it, adding to the weight of the morels. I do not blame them for this cheating… after all it is not fair for the people who actually do all the hard work to get the least amount of money. Taking these mud laden morels they’d string it with as thick a thread they can find and dry them over the cooking fires at home. Beginning of April, there would be traders knocking on the doors of every house, cajoling threatening and luring out the villagers to sell their morels to them. I have often tried to convince the villagers to chop the morels from the base and leave the root in the ground to spread the spores.. and to cut and wash them before drying… but who would pay them the price for selling clean morels…. in India…?? But this is how we promote corruption and cheating in the simple people of these mountains, who are fast learning the techniques of the world….. unfortunately…

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