Decades ago, our friends attended a charity auction and invited us along on a mushroom hunting trip they’d won. We would be seeking Morels off Blewett Pass with an experienced guide, and lunch was included.
We’d hunted for Chanterelles west of the mountains, but missed the taste of Morels, harder to find here than in the Midwest where they grow as big as baseballs and show up almost anywhere. So off we went with our guide and our friends, over the Cascades and up Blewett, pulling off on a road near the top and scrambling through an area that had recently burned. Morels are dusky and brown, brain-like in form, and you could literally walk all over them and not even realize it. Blind to them at first, we realized they were everywhere, and we happily filled our mesh and burlap bags – used so that mushroom spores can spread as you search – and spent hours bushwhacking and enjoying ourselves until we collectively realized we were starving. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was mid-afternoon. I expected a trip to a nearby restaurant, but we got in the car and drove to a campground, not yet officially open since it was pre-Memorial Day weekend.
Our guide opened and poured a bottle of wine and cleaned a firepit cooking grate by pouring olive oil on a paper towel and wiping the grate off. He started a small fire, pulled five fat salmon filets out of an ice chest, poured olive oil on them, patted the oil into the flesh, then sprinkled them with sea salt, doing the same with the Morels, using a soft brush to clean them off first. After the fire had reached a satisfactory level, he put everything on the grate with no foil underneath, and left them there for only a few minutes.
It was the best meal we ever had, and looking back, I realize it was truly a life-changing moment for us. We never cooked the same way again, eschewing our Midwestern cook-until-it’s-soft-and-mushy and put-a-bunch-of-stuff-on-it roots, going instead for local, fresh, and light. We’ve had the same container of iodized salt that we had 25 years ago that’s used only to eradicate slugs, and the seasonings we use are exotic: Himalayan pink salt, truffle salt, local and east coast sea salt; and we exclusively buy Olio Verde, our favorite EVOO, which is hard to come by. There’s no running to the local store to replenish our stash. We buy it from DeLaurenti at Pike Place Market.
Although his name meant nothing to us at the time, our guide that day was internationally recognized connoisseur Jon Rowley. He died six years ago, and the articles posted online after his passing referred to him as culinary evangelist, fish missionary, seafood guru, tenacious tastemaker, Copper River Salmon promoter, Taylor Shellfish consultant.
You don’t need to make a pilgrimage to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago Trail or go on an African safari or summit a mountain to have a life-changing experience. It can be as small as a shared meal, a moment on a rough and damp picnic bench, a little lesson.
Other things that seemed tiny at the time:
“Pat, this is Fred Canada, our new Plant Manager.”
“Honey, I’ve been thinking about buying a business.”
November 2, 2023