Brigitte Daly believes children should grow up with traditions, so she’s working on capturing her family’s multi-generational custom of foraging for morel mushrooms in a beautifully illustrated story book.Daly’s book, “Treasures On The Woodland Floor,” is a story about her first time taking her granddaughter, Fern, into the woods to hunt for morel mushrooms. This foraging practice is one Daly says she and her family have taken part in for five generations.
Daly, of Geneva, Ill., says she frequently travels to Davenport to visit her daughter Danielle Daly, Fern Daly Harris, and other family members. She says she was thrilled to introduce Fern, now 3, to the joy of mushroom hunting, and the experience spurred her to write her tale.
“We’re quite passionate about going out for morel hunting in the spring,” she says. “We were out one day. I found a patch of morel mushrooms. I called Danielle and said we need to bring Fern in.”
Daly says she took Fern to a patch of woods in Geneva, showed her a picture of a morel, and told her to look to see if she could find any. She told Fern it was like playing hide-and-seek, or treasure hunting. The photo of Fern victoriously holding up her very first morel in the air is what really inspired her to put pen to paper, she says. The photo also is displayed in Daly’s home as a memento of a continuing tradition.
“When I was born, I had my grandmother, great-grandmother and great- great-grandmother — and that is pretty incredible. And my mother,” she says. “Five generations of women who passed it down, and we also did it as a family. Take your children into the woods, go for a day of morel hunting.”
Daly is no stranger to showing the wonders of nature to children. Now semi-retired, Daly previously taught at a Montessori school in Batavia, Ill., where children were taken out into nature and taught to identify woodland flowers, trees, fungi and more.
She says about seven years ago, she was sort of toying with the idea of a book, but the idea never came to fruition. Once she decided to return to it, Daly says it took her just three days to write. She is finishing up a few components, such as a glossary and fun facts on morels, and she also plans to include treasured family recipes, including the simple but delicious “MiMi’s Morel Sandwiches.”
Daly says her family has tried several recipes, but they always return to a simple one handed down by her great-grandmother. It includes directions for dusting halved morels in a flour, salt, and pepper mixture, frying in butter, and serving the mushrooms between white bread lightly spread with butter.
She says they might get fancy today with mushrooms, pasta and sauce, but it’s those morel sandwiches that still take the cake.
“Morels are delicious — they really are,” Daly says. “It has almost become an obsession of sorts in our family.”
Daly is working with local artists Bethel Speight, of Moline, and Kelsey Cheatwood, of Bettendorf, to illustrate her book, which she says may be the first of many. She says she is working on a foraging series that would include books on wild berries, fiddlehead ferns and ramps, a type of wild onion that grows in the woods.
Daly says she does not currently have plans to publish her mushroom book or any future books. Instead, she hopes to give them to her family and her husband Jim’s side of the family. She hopes to complete the mushroom book by the beginning of morel season or Mother’s Day.
“I just want to share that with his side of the family, my side of the family and close friends,” she says. “And we’ll see what comes from that.”
Daly says she previously had hoped to distribute copies as Christmas gifts, but completing it by Mother’s Day perfectly aligns with the family’s Mother’s Day tradition of going into the woods for a picnic and morel picking.
She says the family always returns with a large amount of morels.
“Mother’s Day is such a good-luck day,” she says. “You soak them, fry them, eat them between white bread and butter, the morel sandwiches that we make. Mother’s Day — I would love for (the book) to be done by then.”
Daly says she is passionate about morel hunting for more reasons than the delicious bounty that can be gathered from the woods.
“It’s the importance of spending time with family and having those traditions,” she says. “I also think children thrive in nature. That’s really important, especially with technology. (It’s about) turning off phones, and iPads and (the) TV, and going out and exploring.”
Daly says those adventures mean many other discoveries as well, including snakes, wildflowers, mounds where creatures live and various varieties of mushrooms.
“I think we need to turn off that technology and get back into the woods sometimes because (of) the solitude and the peacefulness — less stress. It’s such a happy time.”