Preparing to partake in the putting away of a plateful of palatable Puffballs

Preparing to partake in the putting away of a plateful of palatable Puffballs

Okay, okay, I realize I'm getting a little carried away with the alliterated titling of these blog posts! I blame last month's bounteous bundles of beautious Boletes. I keep having to outdo myself.

All linguistic acrobatics aside, what do you do with Puffballs? (Other than the boyish delight of stomping on them and watching the little "wolf farts"* spew greenish-brown "smoke" comprised of billions of puffball spores into the air!)

Most puffballs are indeed edible. I had never had them before, and this season we saw a goodly number of Lycoperdon* not only out in the forests, but in the gravel of my driveway, so we decided to put them to the test.

The puffballs I've found out here are small ... about golf-ball sized, at best. So preparing them is a lot more trouble than it would be if you found a giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea, which roughly translates to "giant bald head"). We found some the size of soccerballs on our daughter's farm in Pennsylvania last year, and were surprised our granddaughter (then 4) hadn't yet kicked them into oblivion. But unfortunately, by the time we found them, they were "past their prime."

This year Annabelle, now 5, was quick to procure the first of what hopefully may be more puffballs to come, and larger, in the same spot we found them last year. After my daughter took the photo that leads this blog, Annabelle then delightedly dashed this beautiful specimen to the ground with glee, and it smashed into a million pieces. But this time, those pieces were pure white. That puffball was edible, of course. Or rather, used to be.

At any rate, that's how you know a puffball is good. Cut it in half (don't smash it on the ground!) and look at the cross section. It should be uniformly white, the consistency of scrambled eggs (not custardy, yellowish, or brownish), but pure white. Doesn't matter the size of the puffball. Take a look at the small ones I collected around here this year:

Cutting a puffball in half also guards against the deadly mistake of accidently ingesting a toxic Amanita, which in their younger stages can look just like a puffball. But even a young Amanita, cut open, will display its characteristic immature cap and gill structure, rather than the solid white core that you see above.

There are toxic puffballs, but these are dark purple or black on the inside, not white. So never eat any puffball that isn't bright white!

That core is where the spores slowly mature. Mature puffballs, depending on variety, may exude their own spores out through a hole in the top of the sphere (see the photo below of mature Lycoperdon). Or they may await some unsuspecting animal or fun-loving human to come along and trod on them, in which case they erupt into greenish-brown smoke, and spread their spores aloft.

I've found most puffballs don't typically grow out in the soft loam of the forest floor, but rather on more hard-packed trailside soil, or even in gravel as they are growing on my driveway at home this year. They also frequently appear in grass or open meadow, just as they have done on my daughter's farm.

Preparing Puffballs

The key thing to know about preparing puffballs is that you want to scoop out the white material on the inside, and discard the rather tough, leathery skin on the outside, which has been known to cause stomach problems to some sensitive individuals. (I did try it, last month, and experienced no issues myself. But the consistency is not all that pleasing.) This can be a challenge with small puffballs, I discovered, as it is a tedious process which doesn't leave you much to eat for your time and trouble. But with larger Calvatia, it's much simpler and yields a lot of nice mushroom "meat." (Search YouTube on "puffball mushrooms" and you'll find lots of great instructional videos on how to prepare these.)

What does it taste like? In my experience, and according to many people I've read, it's fairly bland. Kind of a cross between tofu and eggs. And, like tofu or eggs, it will "soak up" whatever sort of flavor you add to it.

Puffball is often called a "breakfast mushroom," because many people feel it goes well with eggs. I think you would want to pan fry it first with some sort of tastiness (butter, bacon fat, soy sauce, etc.) which would provide a good contrast in the eggs.

In our little experiment, after cutting all the puffballs in half I tediously skinned them. I found the skin to be more brittle on the top, and a little easier to remove, and tougher down toward the stipe of the Puffball.

After skinning all the puffballs you see above, which took me maybe a half hour, we had a small bowl's worth, enough for four people to share in a dinner meal and everyone to get a good taste.

By the way, don't wash your wild mushrooms ... just remove as much of the dirt and debris as you can, either with a knife as we have done with puffballs, or a brush or compressed air which is effective with other kinds of mushrooms. Washing a mushroom, except in rare cases, tends to make it soggy.

My son Nathan was grilling a duck, and since duck fat is quite rich and tasty, we thought it might impart a nice flavor to the Puffballs. So we grilled those for about 10 minutes in the duck fat (with a little coarse salt and ground pepper added in for good measure), until they were golden brown, then served them up as a side dish.

I won't say they got rave reviews; but they were reasonably tasty.

Others have written extensively about other interesting-sounding ways to prepare Puffballs, particularly the larger variety. If they are big enough, among the most interesting recipes I've read shows how you can thin-slice the "meat" into quarter-inch slices and use them like pizza crust. I'd love to try this sometime. (If you have, please let me know what you thought of it!)

I also enjoyed this video of a gentleman demonstrating how to prepare Giant Puffballs several different ways. They also can be grilled, as demonstrated in this video. And this gentleman stuffs them with cheese, breads and then grills them, almost like grilled cheese sandwiches! That actually looks really tasty.

Obviously, I'm fairly new to my experience with Puffballs ... but I certainly will do more experimentation when I find more! If you find a good way to prepare them, please comment and let me know!

Now here is the usual caveat: Before consuming ANY mushroom, be sure to make a 100% identificable that it is an edible mushroom! Consult an expert to be sure, and if you're not sure, don't eat it!


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