Mushrooms to Make You Happy

Bayport Cookery's Morel Festival.

In late April and early May, legions of Minnesotans slink into the woods to forage for the elusive morel (the official state mushroom). Prized for its distinctive meaty, nutty, earthy flavors, it’s never been successfully cultivated at a quality that can compete with nature’s. Little wonder that morel fanciers jealously guard the secret locations of their annual crop. 

Fortunately, those who aren’t inclined to trek through the woods have a great alternative in tiny Bayport on the St. Croix. Chef-owner Jim Kyndberg of the Bayport Cookery says his own “morel addiction” began 15 years ago when elms were removed from his backyard and morels popped up in their place. At the restaurant, he goes through 50 pounds a week of morels during the annual Morel Festival, May 8 through June 28 this year.

Kyndberg’s Wednesday-through-Sunday multicourse feasts incorporate morels in every dish, even dessert. He describes a morel ice cream that he makes by drying and powdering the mushrooms then steeping them in cream; it has “a resemblance to
butter pecan with a hint of maple.” His inspired menus have also
featured trout served with tempura morels, steak with morel risotto, and morels stuffed with crabmeat. 

His favorite preparation remains simply sautéing the mushrooms in butter with a light sprinkle of sea salt. Like good truffles, Kyndberg says, morels have a quality that’s hard to describe: “They just make you happy when you eat them.”

Bayport Cookery
328 5th Ave. N., Bayport
Weds-Sun, 5-30-9:00 p.m.
3 courses, $35; 5, $55; 9, $85