Monday, September 14, 2009

Giant Puffball

The Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea)is something to look forward to finding while on an almost-fall walk. These edible mushrooms cook up creamy-centered, soaking up flavorings, rewarding the lucky hiker with a delicious meal.

It likes to grow in fields, meadows and deciduous forests, maturing quickly once it emerges in late summer and early fall. It is common throughout the country.

This particular specimen has been growing rapidly near the cabin, where I've been able to keep an eye on it. I used my flip-flop for scale, and estimate the puffball weighed about 2 pounds. It was clear white, no dark areas on the surface. The "cracking" was caused by it's rapid growth over the past four days.

The large white mushrooms are only edible when young. To distinguish giant puffballs from other species, they must be cut open; edible puffballs will have a solid white interior. Some similar mushrooms can have the white interior but also may have the silhouette of a cap-type mushroom on the interior when cut open. These are usually young cap-type mushrooms and may be poisonous.

If you are lucky enough to spot a small puffball as it emerges, you can also gauge it's safety by it's growth pattern. I never consider picking a puffball until it is well over grapefruit size. The smaller sizes can often be the young cap-type, so waiting is one easy pre-test of specimen. A matter of hours can make the difference between a firm white edible mushroom, or a ball of spores that can be dangerous to breathe. A gentle thump should sound solid, not "hollow", and a gentle palpation should feel solid. The true test of edibility is cutting it open. Firmly solid white inside is the criteria.

The puffball should be used immediately after harvest. The interior is almost "fluffy", reminding me of marshmellow without the stickiness. When it ripens, the interior becomes greenish-yellow with millions of spores. It is then inedible.

This specimen was at a neighboring booth at the Farmer's Market. The vendor said it was growing in the edge of the woods across from his house. He picked four nice puffballs that morning, to bring to the market. At $1 each, they were easily the cheapest mushrooms around. Unless you go out and find your own!

That's not a canteloupe he's holding. It's a Giant Puffball. The surface color was beginning to be mottled, a sign of impending spores inside. Sure enough, by the time I got it home, it was over 2/3 spores already.

But nowhere NEAR as "giant" as this one, brought to the Market the following week by the same vendor (and elderly fellow, looks like he's at least 93!). Everyone had questions about it, the most frequent being "How much do you think it weighs?" (or "What is THAT???) So he put it on the neighboring vendor's scale, where it proved to be a 12-pounder - that's a lot of mushroom! Jayden was amazed...

All members of the true puffball family are considered edible, but be sure to cut the young ones open to make sure there are no gills hidden inside.

Some claim the meat tastes very similar to tofu or melted cheese when cooked. It can be crisp outside, and creamy inside. To prepare, remove any brown portions and tough skin, which usually peels off easily if the mushroom is young. Do not soak in anything. Brush off any debris or dirt at the base, where it grows from a single thin stem.
Puffballs may be sauteed, broiled, or breaded and fried; they do not dehydrate well, but may be cooked and then frozen. They readily absorb flavors, but a light hand is required to keep from overwhelming the delicate woodsy flavor.

I shared the treasure and gift of this incredible edible mushroom with some friends and family. Slices and cubes were sauteed in olive oil and butter, seasoned with a dash of rosemary and other herbs, splashed with some marsala - a pre-fall treat fit for any countrywoman's dinner table!

1 comment:

  1. Those puff balls are amazing. I LOVE mushrooms so I was drooling by the time I came to the end of the post!