Family Favorites · My Roots · Vegan · Vegetarian

Springtime memories of Mom….gathering and cooking Morel Mushrooms

Mother's 1968 Morel Mushroom Bounty
Mother’s 1968 Morel Mushroom Bounty

Our Iowa farm was near a large wooded area known as Ferguson’s Timber. This timber was my Mother’s favorite place to hunt those fabulous, spring Morel Mushrooms. She would go to the timber every day she could to hunt and gather the mushrooms to cook, freeze and share with friends and family. My Mother had a keen eye for Morels and taught my sister, brother and I that Morels look like a sponge and are easy to distinguish from other mushrooms; however, she was quick to show us the poisonous ‘false morel’.

1968: I display 2 large morels (love the skinny body and clothes choice!)

Morels are found throughout the Midwest and in parts of eastern Europe. My ancestors, in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) would have gathered these mushrooms in the old country and were probably thrilled to learn that they also grew in their new home, Iowa.

There were two primary recipes my Mother served for these small gifts from heaven:

  • Fried Morels:   After washing and trimming the mushrooms, Mother would cut the mushrooms in half, dredge in flour and brown them in butter, adding salt and pepper.  The result was a wonderful browned, crispy, savory Morel.
  • Scrambled Eggs with Morels:  After washing and trimming the mushrooms, Mother would brown the chopped mushrooms in butter until soft then pour beaten eggs, seasoned with salt and pepper, over the mushrooms and cook until hard.   The mushrooms add an earthy, wonderful flavor to ordinary scrambled eggs.

Unfortunately, Colorado is not a natural source for Morels and I have been craving Morels since my Mother became ill in the mid-1990s.  She  would lovingly gather and freeze Morels to cook when I would come home to visit. I was delighted to find dried Morels in our local Savory Spice Shop, www.savoryspiceshop.com.

Dried Morels from Savory Spice Shop
Close up of dried Morels
Reconstituting dried Morels

I have saved these earthy morsels for my spring craving.  Mother’s Day is approaching and it’s time to honor my Mother and this spring family ritual. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

The following recipe is adapted my Mother’s recipe using olive oil instead of butter and adding a pinch of Herbs de Provence.  More Morels, please!

SCRAMBLED EGGS WITH MOREL MUSHROOMS

Scrambled Eggs with Morels

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2-1 ounce dried Morels, reconstitute per directions (or 1-2 cups fresh Morels), chopped
4 beaten eggs
1 teaspoon water
salt & pepper to taste
pinch of Herbs de Provence

  • Heat olive oil in a non-stick pan.  Add chopped morels and brown for 5 minutes or until cooked through/soft.
Saute Morels
  • Whisk eggs with 1 teaspoon water.  Add salt, pepper and herbs.  Add eggs to mushrooms and cook until eggs are to your liking.
Czech Heritage and Dishes · Family · My Roots

Mushroom and Barley Soup…a Czech winter delight!

My Czech heritage is fascinating to me.  My Mother gave me The Czech Book Recipes and Traditions in 1982 and it has become a treasure.  The Mushroom and Barley Soup is a favorite of mine.  You can add meat, or if vegetarian, leave it out.  It’s a hearty, healthy winter soup that makes me even more curious about the Smaha Czech heritage.  Požívat! (enjoy)

MUSHROOM AND BARLEY SOUP
Houbová Polévka as Kroupama

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washing, trimmed and sliced
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrot
1 tablespoon flour
3 cups chicken broth or beef broth
1/2 cup pearled medium barley
1 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken, turkey or beef

  • In a 3-quart saucepan melt butter, add mushrooms, onion, celery, carrot. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring often about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in flour, then the broth.
  • Add barley, cover and simmer until barley is cooked through, about 1 hour.

  • Add cooked diced meat, salt and pepper. For a creamier soup, stir in about 1 cup milk.

Adapted from The Czech Book, Recipes and Traditions, Copyright 1981

Czech Heritage and Dishes · Family Favorites · My Roots

Kolache … Bohemian Heritage and Christmas Tradition

KOLACHE … Cherry is my favorite!

Kolaches originated in the Slovak countries and our Smaha family brought this Bohemian tradition to America when they immigrated to Iowa in the late 1800s. This tradition has been passed down in our family for many generations.  Kolaches are wonderful any time of the year but especially wonderful at Christmas.  My family tradition is to have them Christmas morning while we are opening gifts and sipping coffee or hot chocolate.

Christmas Morning and Kolaches 1987

This picture was taken in Christmas morning 1987 with my Mother, Mother-In-Law, and oldest daughter, Megan.  Let the Kolache feast begin!

My all-time favorite Kolache is cherry.  This season I was fortunate to buy a large container of fresh frozen tart cherries that I’ve been saving for Kolache filling this Christmas.  Other years, I have used canned cherry pie filling. I have made Kolaches from old-fashioned sweet dough recipes but a new favorite is the sweet dough recipe for the bread machine.  In a pinch, I have used frozen bread dough, even though not sweet, is very good.

Traditional Kolache come in many flavors including the timeless Bohemian prune or poppy-seed fillings.  My Mother’s Kolaches were fabulous and we waited with excitement while they baked, poised to snatch one as soon as they came out of the oven.

Everyone’s Kolaches are a tad different.  My Mother didn’t add the crumb topping to her Kolaches but a wonderful farm neighbor, Nellie, made Prune  Kolaches with crumb topping in her old wood stove.  You haven’t lived until you’ve had Kolaches from a wood cooking stove.  My Aunt Lora, baked Kolaches that she pinched closed at the top and sprinkled with sugar.  Equally wonderful.

Wishing all of you a wonderful Christmas and many cherished family traditions.

SWEET BREAD DOUGH (FOR BREAD MACHINE)

1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
1 cup less 1 T. water

  • All ingredients should be at room temperature. Add the ingredients in the order listed above.
  • Run the machine through the dough cycle. Remove and work on floured board to desired loaf, rolls, etc.

CHERRY FILLING

1 1/2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup juice from cherries
3 cups pitted tart red cherries (water pack)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon red food coloring

  • Combine 3/4 cup sugar with cornstarch.  Stir in cherry juice.
  • Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, till mixture thickens and bubbles; cook 1 minute longer.  Add remaining sugar, cherries, butter and food coloring and cook until thickened. Mixture will be very thick.  Let stand while preparing bread dough for Kolaches.

PREPARING THE KOLACHES:

Pinch a piece of dough about the size of a walnut (or ping pong ball) and place on a greased baking pan.  Cover with wax paper then a towel and let rise until double in size.  When risen, push centers of balls down and fill with cherry filling (or filling of choice).  Let rise again and bake at 400 degrees.

KOLACHE CRUMB TOPPING  (Optional)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 teaspoon salt (omit if using margarine)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix all ingredients together (use a pastry blender)  until crumbly and use as a topping for Kolaches or coffee cakes.