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Jim Kershner: The legend of glorious beauty bark mushrooms

We went morel mushroom hunting three times this week. Yeah, it’s been grueling.

Had to walk out the back door, take a couple steps to the garden, load up with morels and walk all the way back into the house.

We can hardly believe our luck. We’ve been having a bodacious morel harvest right in our own city yard.

Dinner has been pretty easy around our house. A couple of days ago, we had morels sautéed in butter. Yesterday we had morel-asparagus-cream sauce with rigatoni. Today? I don’t know. A nice bowl of morel risotto sounds nice.

And we owe it all to beauty bark.

Last summer we spread a fresh batch of beauty bark on our garden. It came from a dump truck from a landscaping supply yard, which got it from a sawmill or barking operation, which got it from a magical glade where morel spores drift around on the breeze and nestle in the cracks of tree bark.

All I know is that, sometimes, the first year after you spread beauty bark, morels pop up in places where morels wouldn’t normally pop up.

When we first found them, the morning after a dousing rain, we remembered that we had split this truckload of beauty bark with our neighbors, Jack and Claire.

“We should go tell Jack and Claire to look in their garden,” my wife, Carol, said. “I’ll bet they have some mushrooms, too.”

“Actually,” I said. “Let’s not be hasty. Let’s think this through. Before we mention anything to them, why don’t I just go over there and, you know, scout out the situation first?”

Carol glowered at me, arms crossed. She asked me what lame excuse I planned to spout after they found me lurking in their back garden, a knife in one hand and a basket in the other.

So, yes, we went ahead and told Jack and Claire. Turns out, they were already on top of the situation. Dinner at their house the night before had been morel pizza.

Clearly, this had been one ultra-special batch of beauty bark.

(Brief linguistic digression: Isn’t that term “beauty bark” a little bit precious? Why don’t people just call it “garden bark” or “landscaping bark” or “mulch bark”? Or how about this idea: Just plain “bark”?)

For those of you not familiar with the noble morel, it’s one of the best tasting of our wild mushrooms. It’s also one of the easiest to identify, with its cute conical shape and its deeply crevassed cap. There is a “false morel,” too, and yes, it can be poisonous. But it’s ugly and brain-like and doesn’t actually look much like a morel, once you know real morels.

Morels have a deep, earthy flavor that puts regular button mushrooms to shame. Morels are not easy to cultivate, which is why they cost so much in stores – if and when you can find them.

Morels generally grow in our forests, up in the hills. Many Inland Northwesterners have their favorite morel-hunting spots. Getting to them usually involves miles of dirt roads, plenty of bushwhacking and a lot of ticks crawling down your collar or up your shorts.

Or, with luck, you can just saunter out your back door into your garden.

One thing’s for sure, I’m buying another load of that bark – that beautiful, beautiful bark – next year.

Reach Jim Kershner at or (509) 459-5493.

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