As this pandemic has drawn out, more and more people have developed an interest in getting outdoors, mushroom hunting, and foraging. These are pretty good life skills in the first place, but in this COVID19 environment where isolation is hard on the psyche, and inactivity is hard on the waistline- this is a really good time to spend more time outdoors.
I haven’t seen this much interest in foraging since the 2008 financial crisis. I suspect some people are turning to it out of need because of the pretty abysmal response to the pandemic in the US, and their family’s survival depends on it. If that is why you are here, I commend you doing what it takes to survive. I hope you stay with it when your finances solidify again. Every tiny thing you can do to empower yourself, and every cent you don’t have to spend on food because you harvested it yourself, makes your life better.
One of the most prolific and under rated, under APPRECIATED fall mushrooms are “common” puffballs. While everyone else is chasing down the elusive G. frondosa, Laetoperpus, and Pluerotus, these little guys fruit their little hearts out, in GREAT quantity, in plain sight. Generally, no one cares. I care. I see you little buddies! I appreciate you!
There are a whole lot of mushrooms called “puffballs” that may, or may not be. I highly recommend reading the puffball entry at Mushroom expert which goes over the many species, and how to tell if you have an actual puffball, or the egg phase of a completely different kind of mushroom.
It is absolutely vital that you do research and never, ever eat anything you are unsure of. When in doubt, throw it out. Like many things, if you don’t know what you are putting in your mouth, it can kill you.
Seriously! NEVER EAT ANYTHING YOU ARE UNSURE OF! I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS TO YOU BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T CORRECTLY IDENTIFY SOMETHING!
Learning, and research is key. See if there is a mycological group in your area. Take classes (many are zoom right now) to learn, and spend some of this pandemic free time getting in touch with the ancient hunting and gathering skills all of our ancestors had.
Common puffballs generally grow on decaying wood in huge colonies of hundreds of fruiting bodies. They are edible (the two species I’m speaking of L. pyreform & perlatum) and unlike their giant cousin Calvatia gigantea, (which I have written about before) they don’t have quite the “dirty foot flavor” of the larger species, and don’t need to be pealed. They have a tremendous mushroom flavor punch in for such tiny little bodies.
The colonies can be absolutely huge! I’ve seen logs thirty feet long covered in thousands. They are best harvested by using a knife to cut them off the log horizontal to the surface. You don’t want to disturb the mycelium. They tend to fruit on the same logs for a few years until the log has decomposed to the point it provides no nutrients to the mushrooms anymore. I generally never pull them, but the below photo was to show their shape in profile. The log is pretty far gone, and this may be the last fruiting on it.
I usually cut one off to see if the stem side is white, then cut it in half from the top down. If it is white, without a hint of yellow or green (which means it is going to spore) and no hint of a “mushroom” shadow indicating that it is in fact the egg stage of something like an Amanita, I can harvest.
I usually carry mesh bags in my mushroom basket to sort my harvest by species, but I will put common puffballs in the same bag, even if different species. It is fairly easy to harvest hundreds of them, literally pounds of gumdrop to golfball sized lumps of mushroom goodness, with no trouble. On an important note, never take them all, because they need to reproduce.
They are such very prolific growers that I often get four or five meals out of a single harvest. If I come across a few logs fruiting, it is usually a pretty substantial haul. You have to move pretty quickly with them, or they will try to spore out, but I find that refrigeration slows that process long enough to preserve them.
After my initial identification in the field, I always make sure to prepare them carefully to make sure none are going to spore or something harmful. As much as you want to wash them. And they tend to have these little granules on them, try not to. It just water logs them and makes them turn faster. A soft brush to knock off any dirt, or wood is all you need.
After cleaning, and preparing them, they can be stored in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for a few days, dry sauteed and frozen, or dehydrated if you have a really good quality dehydrator with a fan in it. If any are close to sporing though, they will. Check on them frequently because the whole batch will he ruined if one of them spores out all over. Think olive drab dust on everything that will make you vomit. You can also steam them and dehydrate them once steamed. This makes them pre-cooked, so they can be rehydrated and added to just about anything pretty quickly. Dehydrating cooked mushrooms is quickly becoming my go to storage method.
They can (and many might argue should) be cooked fresh. They go well in any dish that calls for mushrooms. I’ve had some bomb cream of mushroom soup with a mix of perlatum and pyreform, and their flavor was in every way superior to button or shitake. I like to use them in my scrambled eggs. Yum! They can be dry sauteed, but their flavor seems to be enhanced when cooked in a fat of some kind, which has been my experience with many mushrooms.
My son-in-law made some phá from scratch and I tossed a handful of sauteed puffballs in mine and it was AMAZING!!
These little guys are a super plentiful, and often overlooked wild mushroom that definitely deserve more respect. I hope you get to know them and give them a try! Let me know in the comments if you do!