NEVER EAT ANYTHING YOU ARE UNSURE OF! I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS TO YOU BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T CORRECTLY IDENTIFY SOMETHING!
In our efforts to maintain physical fitness and sanity during this pandemic, I’m going to continue to harp on the notion that hiking, foraging, and mushroom hunting. You don’t have to collect anything, but you can learn and look. Get outside, walk around, get some sunshine, and see what’s going on in the woods. This is a good time to learn the seasons and what grows when while staying away from people.
Right now, in my area of the world, one of the easiest to recognize mushrooms will or has begun to fruit, and will over the next few weeks. The Giant Puffball, Calvatia gigante is an easily recognized mushroom. A softball sized one is considered small. I have personally seen these mushrooms be over a meter across and weigh 15 or 20 pounds. They are large, white, roundish (but can have pock marks making them look moon like) and have an almost rubbery texture on the exterior. If you thump one, you will instantly be reminded of those pink rubber balls used in elementary school gym classes.
This unique mushroom has no real look alikes; mature specimens that is. There are some stages of large poisonous mushrooms that go through a stage that is similar to a giant puffball, but the test is rather simple.
The mushroom has a top and a bottom, even though they are more or less round. On the bottom will be a spot with a little root like structure. From the top cutting down, cut the mushroom in half; if you see ANYTHING inside other than white, fluffy, marshmallow like interior, DON’T EAT IT!! Some species of Amanita like the “Destroying Angel” resemble giant puffballs in their immature egg state. If you cut it in half and see the shape of a mushroom inside, in fact, ANYTHING inside DON’T EAT IT!!
These mushrooms are an edible, but not considered choice. It has a distinct odor reminiscent of feet or French cheese. The preparation can ascerbate or diminish this scent and the strength of flavor. They have to be peeled first. They have a very thin parchment like skin that peels off easily. If you open them up and you see yellow, or a hint of yellow like below, Don’t eat it. It is going to spore and will make you sick. White, fluffy ONLY.
Puffballs can be really versatile. You can slice them like burger patties and grill them. It really intensifies the flavor. You can also saute them in garlic, onions, olive oil and butter. This diminishes the “in your face” flavor. You can also slice them and use them instead of noodles in lasagna. They kind of act like a flavorful tofu like substance in recipes that call for tofu. You can use them in stir fries, grilled, fried… Actually, I have made a batter and fried them like puffball nuggets and they were obscenely good. They dry REALLY, REALLY well, and can be added to soups, stews and casserole in dried form. Once dried, they can also be crushed or powdered to be used as a thickener.
Mushrooms in general have a lot of vitamins and minerals in them. By using them as a thickener you can get all the benefits and still sneak them by fussy eaters who need some vitamins and minerals.
There is an awesome rush when you find the giant puffball. It is a little like shooting fish in a barrel, honestly. They tend to grow in huge fields too. I have picked a few that when I got them home were going to spore, so I took those out and put them in my compost. I’m hoping my compost was inoculated and that giant puffballs will eventually start sprouting in my garden beds.
Unfortunately, once you find a few, especially after some monsters, you get to where you are like “Ug. A Fu*#ing puffball” and you are over it. They are a super easily identifiable edible. Once they are over the size of a volleyball, there really isn’t anything that looks like them.
They should start fruiting at the end of August and the start of September, however, with the crazy cool weather this year, they may be late. If you see a white orb in the woods, check it out because you just may have found a giant puffball. Please don’t kick it even if you don’t want to collect it. That really ticks me off and it’s just rude. Live and let live, you know?