Spring is official as soon as the morels start popping up. Morels are easy to identify, but that doesn't mean you can just go picking anything that looks like a morel at first glance. If you're foraging early in spring and think you've found the first morel of the year, chances are it's actually a Verpa. Some people eat Verpas and love them, others think they taste gross, and some people get violently ill from eating them. There have even been reports of people eating Verpas for years, and then one day, suddenly developing a violent allergy to them. So, eat them at your own risk (they wont kill you), but here is how to tell them apart:
On the left is a true morel (Morchella esculenta) and on the right is a Verpa (Verpa bohemica). They look pretty similar, especially since they can both vary in color. The difference is how the wrinkly cap attaches to the stem. Morels caps are continuous with the stem making sort of a single hollow tube. Whereas Verpas have the wrinkly cap more or less draped over the stem and not as connected. It can actually be hard to keep the stem and cap connected on a Verpa, they fall appart easily. But morels will stay intact unless you take a knife to them. Here's a picture of a morel and a Verpa cut in half to show the stem attachment:
It's morel on the left and Verpa on the right again. Also, notice how the morel stem is nice an smooth on the inside, whereas Verpas can have cottony-looking tissue filling the stem.
So why go to all the trouble of finding and correctly identifying a mushroom? Because it's DELICIOUS.
Here are some morels sauteeing in butter with some spring onions and fresh garlic.
Morels and butter make excellent pasta sauce.
(In addition to the onions and garlic, I also added Italian sausage and sea beans.)