At the height of growing season, morels can be found in surprising profusion. Though many places strictly regulate the number of morels that can be collected per person without paying a fee for the privilege, it still isn't uncommon for two or three people to find enough morels to fill a couple of five gallon buckets.
This can present a problem. How do you preserve them for later use? Thankfully, preparing, preserving, and storing morels isn't difficult.
Preparation: The first step is to remove any remaining stems from the morel heads, putting the heads in a cold-water bath. Wash the mushrooms gently but thoroughly to remove any dirt, pine needles, or other debris. In the field, the morels should also be transported in a water bath or ice chest to prevent them from drying out prematurely. This also keeps the flesh firmer.
The heads can then be quartered, halved, or sliced. Larger heads can be placed in the refrigerator whole, and they should keep for up to a week, if stuffed mushrooms are desired for a meal.
Preservation: There are three primary ways to preserve morels: Drying, canning and freezing.
To dry, place the prepared morels on a screen in a single layer, and place in a warm dry room out of direct sunlight, making sure there is good airflow. They can be dried in a food dehydrator or very slow oven, however this is not preferable unless there is no other choice as the morels will lose flavor. The morels will be dry when they are very slightly rubbery and almost brittle. These can then be placed in zip lock bags for storage, removing as much of the air in the bags as is possible before sealing.
For storage, the bags should be put in a cool, dark, dry place. As long as they don't contract moisture, dried morels can last a year without appreciable loss of flavor or spoilage. To reconstitute the dried mushrooms, place them in water for an hour.
To can, the morel pieces can be put in small canning jars alone, they can be added to soup vegetables, or they can be put in with prepared stews. Can the resultant as you normally would. It isn't necessary to cook the morels prior to canning; because it takes little time to cook morels and having the mushrooms slightly firm after cooking is good. If they are precooked, they will tend to be almost soggy when the canning jars are opened.
For storage, place the canned morels in a dark place. Light can cause a breakdown in flavor, as it will for vegetables as well. Canned mushrooms are best used within a year.
One of the favored ways to preserve morels is freezing. To freeze morels, place morel pieces in a medium hot fry pan with butter added. Stir and blanch the mushrooms for only 10-15 seconds, then remove to cool. When the batch has been blanched and cooled, place the mushrooms in zip lock bags, gently removing as much air from the bag as possible before sealing the bag totally.
For storage, immediately place the bags of morels in the freezer and freeze as quickly as possible. Frozen morels will last up to two years, though the flavor dissipates somewhat after a year.
The options for preserving and storing morels mean that it is possible to have dishes prepared with morels, for the entire year. It is likely that people will have their favorite way to preserve them, but none of the methods is especially difficult. Yet having a dish of fresh tasting morels in the middle of winter makes the effort well worth it.