Spring is a time of awakening and renewal. Outdoorsmen long for the sweet smells of honeysuckle and apple blossoms and the delicate flavors of nature’s spring bounty.
There are none better than the spring trifecta of crappie, morel mushrooms and wild turkey, all fried to perfection and all found in the woods and waters of the Missouri Ozarks.
Mustard Fried Crappie
• Yellow Cornmeal
• Garlic salt
• Filleted crappie
• Peanut oil
• Lemon pepper
Directions: Heat a cast iron skillet until peanut oil is hot. While the oil is heating, brush each crappie fillet with a coating of your favorite yellow mustard. Dust the fillets with lemon pepper and garlic salt and roll them in the yellow cornmeal.
Cook the fillets until they are a golden brown, but don’t over cook. Serve with french fries, cole slaw, sliced onions, and a favorite beverage.
Fried Cracker Crumb Morels
• 1 pound morels
• 3/4 cup whole milk
• 1/2 cup cooking oil
• 4 ounce packet saltine crackers, finely crushed
• 2 eggs
• Salt and pepper
Directions: Soak the mushrooms in salt water for several hours. Clean thoroughly with a damp paper towel or soft brush. Cut larger mushrooms in half.
Using a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. In the meantime, beat the eggs and milk in a shallow bowl.Toss in the cracker crumbs. Coat the mushrooms in the mixture.
Carefully place the coated mushrooms into the heated oil. They will cook quickly. Once they are golden brown, flip them to brown the other side.
After the mushrooms are thoroughly browned, remove them to drain on a paper towel. Salt and pepper to taste. Eat while hot.
Serve as an appetizer, or include fried fish, or other favorite meats, a small dinner salad and iced tea.
Mexican Style Ocellated Turkey Breast
• Sour orange juice, or 1/2 vinegar and orange or lime juice
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• Worcestershire sauce
Directions: Marinate the turkey breasts in the sour orange juice or a combination of vinegar and orange or lime juice and Worcestershire sauce for a couple of hours.
Melt the butter in a skillet until brown. Fry the turkey breasts in the melted butter over medium heat. A couple of minutes on a side will suffice.
Add your favorite salsa on top.
Serve with a fresh green salad and fresh vegetables marinated in Spanish olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper.
Tortillas, rice, fried bananas, onions fried in butter and refried beans, or Mexican Black Butter round out a perfect Mexican turkey meal. Add your favorite cold drink.
I enjoyed this meal in the Yucatan. Eduardo, the camp cook at Snook Inn Hunting Lodge, prepared the delicious meal from a beautiful ocellated gobbler I killed that afternoon.
Of course, the eastern wild turkey, found in the Missouri Ozarks, is just as tasty with this same recipe. The Mexican turkey recipe is a flavorful break from the traditional fried turkey breast found in the kitchens of Missouri hunters.
Certainly, however, there is not much food in the world that is better than fried turkey breast. On the other hand, two turkey dishes might be better than one. It’s worth a try.
Procuring the three aforementioned food items from the wild is more of a challenge than actually preparing the items to eat, the wild turkey being the most difficult to acquire.
Most Ozark Mountain turkey hunters have a good idea of how to go about hunting wild turkeys, but few hunters are so adept at the sport that they are 100% successful in their attempts.
Volumes of books and truckloads of videos have been made about how to hunt wild turkeys. Dozens of call companies, camo companies, and businesses offering all manner of turkey hunting gadgets flood the markets these days. It is a dizzying chore to keep up with the flood of products that sweep the market each year.
In many circles, turkey hunting has become an annual fashion statement of the who’s who of the turkey hunting world. Anyone who has ever won a major turkey calling contest has become a spokesman for call and products companies.
Contest calling and calling for an actual hunt are two entirely different scenarios. Therefore, it is easy to surmise that all of the products thrown at us each spring are not at all needed to bring home a wild turkey for dinner.
The most famous turkey hunter in the world, Missourian Ray Eye, wears no camo clothing at all. He simply wears clothing in shades of brown, green and gray. No face mask, no camo paint, no fancy calls.
“I sit still and take advantage of the shadows and I make my own mouth calls,” Eye said. “The rest involves knowing where there are some turkeys and how to call them. It takes practice.”
Mid-April to mid-May is the perfect time to catch a mess of big crappie. They will be spawning in shallow water and often congregate in good spawning areas. Where you find one spawner, you will often find many. Minnows and small jigs are favored baits.
Finding morel mushrooms can be tricky, because conditions must be perfect for the tasty morsels to pop up. Morels misers each have their own theories about the best time to hunt the fungi. Moisture, soil temperature, phase the moon, they all contribute to the magic.
Regardless, look for morels in low lying areas like creek banks with sandy soils. I’ve had good luck looking around decaying elm tress as well as groves of soft maples.
Good hunting and remember two out of three is not bad.
There is no better way to usher in spring than with this trifecta of favorite fried foods. The ultimate fried feast is to enjoy all three recipes at the same time with a gathering of family and friends.
By Bill Cooper
(Bill Cooper can be reached at 573-263-4918 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)