A recent, late-season encounter of an old friend, Verpa bohemica (Early Morel; Wrinkled Thimble Morel) prompted us to revisit this popular, early spring mushroom for your future consideration. While it may be late for this year (March through April in most years), this may get you thinking about future possibilities when you happen across suitable Verpa habitat in your travels.
This verpa stem measured about 10".
First, though, the cautionary stuff, and it is important with Verpas, so read and heed the following. This mushroom must be thoroughly cooked, as all wild mushrooms should be. However, in addition to cooking, Verpas must be parboiled prior to cooking. Parboil them outdoors or under a good, strong exhaust fan so that you won’t inhale the steam. It is believed that Verpas contain a Gyromitrin-like toxin, which is released by parboiling. If these precautions are taken, Verpas are safe for most people. Some, however, are sensitive to it and will experience gastrointestinal upset or even loss of muscular coordination. First timers should eat only a small amount at first, and should not eat Verpas several days in a row.
Now that that’s out of the way, the Verpa is often the first of the spring mushrooms in the Northwest. We haven’t found it on the southern Oregon coast where we now live, but we have often found it around Mt. Hood and along the Columbia and Sandy Rivers, and we’re certain it grows many other places as well. In our experience, the key is that they are close to rivers and they are found among cottonwoods. The literature says that they also grow among conifers and alders; we haven’t found them there, but maybe we just haven’t been lucky. Experiment. We often encounter that scourge, stinging nettles, in the same places, so watch out for them.
Verpas superficially resemble morels, as their popular names, “False Morel,” “Early False Morel,” and “Wrinkled Thimble Cap Morel” imply. The latter name also tells something useful about them: the cap, like a thimble, is easily detached from the long, hollow stem, which is coarse and not worth saving. We take the caps and leave the stems in place. This solves a disposal problem and “feels right” from an environmental standpoint.
Sometimes we're too late - the caps
have already fallen from the stem.
For identification purposes, the things we look at are the long, hollow stems, and the easily detached caps which are ridged rather than pitted. Once you have these committed to memory, they are unmistakable.
When looking for Verpas, we find it is easiest to spot the stems, which are creamy off-white and tend to stand out. The caps are smaller and are better camouflaged. You’ll typically be gathering these at a time when the dead leaves from last fall will still be present, but will be brown, soggy and deteriorated. In a good Verpa area, you’ll be surprised at how skilled they are at hiding in this stuff!
Verpas are not Morels and don’t taste much like Morels. They have an earthier taste, but we like them, especially stuffed with seasoned pork. For us, though, the main reason they seem so special is that they are early. After a month or two of “no mushrooms,” it’s a treat to get out and look for mushrooms again, and another treat to be able to prepare and eat wild mushrooms!
The verpas here were in such a lovely setting, accented
by cottonwood seeds, moss covered branches and ivy.