Early this summer, while on what is becoming my annual morel road trip, I landed myself in a 2021 Idaho wildfire. In the West, conifer forests that suffered a wildfire the previous year pretty dependably produce morels, provided conditions—such as getting some good rainfall—are right.
Lightning started one of those wildfires on July 7, 2021, in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. Known initially as the Deceitful Fire, it was soon combined with the nearby Pritchard Fire to become known as the Character Complex Fire.
It was the Deceitful Fire site I was after. Using initial intel from Modern Forager burn maps then combining it with a map of the Deceitful Fire laid down in onX Hunt—a GPS and mapping app I often use to find access points, public lands, and information on ownership of private lands—I ascended into the mountains three miles north of Cataldo, ID, in early June.
Over about four hours total, spread across two days, I picked several gallons of morels—nearly 10 pounds in all. I hadn’t wanted to quit. So, on the second day, I’d had to force myself to stop. Dark was descending and I was on a burnt hillside, in a forest, all alone. I needed to get off that hillside without falling, without getting trapped in the dark, and without losing my way to the car or back down the mountain road.
Leaving had been hard. Even as I willed myself to stop, I could see morels jutting out of crisp fir needles in every direction. They marched uphill away from me. They stuck out from the edge of a nearby draw. They dotted the needle litter to my left and right. Those burn morels were overmuch, maddening in their profusivety.
I’d averted my eyes as I traveled back to the car; willed myself not to look, not to stop and pick just. one. more. morel. I walked past multiple dozens and left them standing. And still, I had gallons of burn morels to my name.
A few days later, in the parking lot of a dilapidated gas station along I-90 in Washington, I met a friend, Heather Nucifora, for a wild foragers’ trade: She gave me the sea beans, or Salicornia, she’d harvested; I gave her pounds of of the Morchella I had gathered—and a link to a map with a GPS point pinning the very spot I’d walked away from.
Within a week Nucifora and friends would gather 25 pounds of morels from the forest I’d left. Within a month, I would be in Montana hunting burn morels with some other zealots. That week, however, I turned those sea beans my friend had gathered and the burn morels I had foraged into a special dinner for friends.
Crunchy Sea Bean Salad
Sea Beans, aka Salicornia, aka samphire
Zest of fresh lemon
Cotija cheese, crumbled (could be swapped for parmesan, but beware of salty cheeses as the sea beans bring their own brine.)
Step 1: Blanch sea beans.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add sea beans and cook for 30 seconds, and definitely no more than 1 minute.
Drain and quickly plunge sea beans into a frigid bath of ice water. Let rest for up to 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
Step 2: Toss salad
In a large bowl, combine chilled and drained sea beans and lemon zest and toss to mix. Add several dashes of champagne vinegar and toss to combine. Add in crumbled cotija. Toss and serve, perhaps alongside a gorgeous sautee of shrimp and fresh picked burn morels.
This salad can live in the fridge for several days without wilting.