When leafing through field guides to edible wild mushrooms, I have always stopped to stare a moment at the pages devoted to the giant puffball. Easy to identify, and extravagantly sized, I’ve always wanted to find one.
I did find a small, grapefruit sized specimen last year. And it was delicious. In fact, I’ve concluded that the puffball is close to perfect – easy to find, identify and clean, and delicious to eat.
This last weekend, my friends Christy and Mark arrived on my doorstep, with an absolutely monstrous puffball in tow, and a smaller specimen as well. Sadly, the larger specimen was just a couple days too old to eat- spores had started to form within. The smaller mushroom, however, was fresh and lovely.
Excited by their finds, I marched out into the woods early the next morning. Tramping around, I saw little evidence of fungal growth of any type. It’s been dry, but I pressed on.
Entering my least favorite part of the woods, a hilly spot riddled with downed trees and lots of prickly undergrowth, my pace slowed as I picked my way carefully through, around, under and over the fallen trees and branches.
And then I saw it.
There, glowing eerily from the forest floor was an immense, white, alien orb. A smaller one sat nearby. Praying under my breath that it was still fresh and sound I made my way over to the immense puffball. Its surface was smooth and sound, and I had to give it a sharp tug and twist to release it from the ground. It was heavy and firm. Good signs, for sure.
Before carrying it off, I took a very cheesy and terrifically unflattering self portrait, with puffball. Then I slid it into a nylon bag, and cradling it gently, started to pick my way out of the wood, gingerly carrying my prize in front of me.
I finally made it out of the woods, and ventured home, drawing some strange looks from passing motorists as I made my way back up the road to my house. Once home, I reverently laid my treasure on a cutting board, and took a few more pictures, just to document my good fortune.
Holding my breath, I sliced into the puffball. Would it be snowy white inside? Unspoiled and ready to eat? Or would it have started to age, sprouting spores, and rendering it inedible?
Using a sharp serrated knife, I gently cut the mushroom in half. It was snowy white! Perfect!
I invited Christy and Mark to dinner to celebrate, and made puffball strudel and puffball & sausage penne. Both were delicious, and the recipes will be posted soon. The remaining puffball was sliced and turned into puffball parmesan, and the last bits will be used in another batch of penne this weekend. Finding monster puffballs does result in a total embarrassment of riches, but I’m up to the challenge.