From the March/April 2017 Iowa Outdoors
By Randy Brenton
As a teenager, I received my first book on gathering wild food for a birthday present. Stalking the Wild Asparagus, a book by Euell Gibbons, gave me a start in reaping where I did not sow. Hunting, fishing and gathering wild foods have been favorite activities of mine for years.
For this Iowan and outdoor lover, the spring trifecta is turkey, trout and morels. For others, crappies are part of the trio.
I hunt in northeast Iowa, so I attempt to complete the trout trifecta most years, but the timing of the morels is usually most challenging. Last year was the first year I attempted a spring quadfecta: a turkey, a limit of trout, morels and wild asparagus. I had the idea of adding the asparagus last year after having a delicious asparagus and morel mushroom pizza at a local Decorah restaurant.
Starting with the turkey, I went at daybreak to the top of a ridge of walnut trees and started calling. After an hour, a tom answered me. He came closer, but hung up about 100 yards out. I called infrequently, but each time I called, he would answer, hoping my hen decoys would “come to him.” After about 45 minutes of this stalemate, two larger toms came in silently to see what all the chatter was about. Both were racing each other to my strutting tom decoy. Waiting only for separation of the two, I got a nice clear head shot. The second tom hung around long enough for me to get a few photos of him.
Next, the trout. Most of the time, when I’m trout fishing, it is about the joy of catching a finicky trout from behind a rock. Today, I was determined to get a limit. Coldwater Creek in Winneshiek County is one of my favorite streams, with many pools to choose from and usually enough trout for good action. This day I was in luck. The first pool I tried gave me a nice trout and I had my five trout in a few hours.
The morels were a challenge because it was still a little too early in the season. Oak leaves were the size of squirrels’ ears—the criteria my grandfather used to tell if morels would be out. Another marker is the blooms of mayapples which were, unfortunately, only budding out at this time. Going to several places which had morels in the past, I did score a small batch of small gray morels. It was definitely too early for the larger yellow morels.
Asparagus grows wild in many ditches in Iowa and if you know where to look, this is the easy part of a “quadfecta.” I make a mental note of locations of asparagus in the fall when the plants are large and noticeable after they turn golden. Sometimes the brushy tops are still visible in the spring. After I picked some spears, it was time to start cooking. I called my friend Carlyle to join me. He too had shot his turkey and was working on catching some trout.
I put some olive oil on a griddle and cooked the trout and turkey first. The turkey was cut in small strips seasoned with poultry seasoning. The trout was sprinkled with Greek seasoning. One can dip them in flour to make the skin easier to peel. Once the trout were cooking, I put the asparagus spears on the same griddle. Mushrooms sautéed in butter is my favorite way to eat morels, but again, they can also be coated in flour or cracker crumbs. I cut the morels in half and soaked them in salt water before cooking them. I put some butter on one end of the griddle to melt and finally placed the morels on. When the morels start to shrink, they are ready to eat. So I was cooking all four on the same griddle with butter at one end and olive oil at the other.
Carlyle and I had quite a feast, eating the quadfecta as a meal from one pan. This was the first time for such a meal in many years of turkey hunting. Although the meal was great, the best part was enjoying Iowa in the spring. The sights and sounds of the woods in spring is a delight to the senses.