AKA: Giant Puffball

Fall has arrived and with it new challenges for the mycophagist. There are so many leaves falling that searching in the woodlands and forest can be all but fruitless. I know the mushrooms are there, lobsters and chanterelles under the leaves, but finding them can be very tough. Now is when the truly knowledgeable, dedicated mycologist starts searching the woodland/meadow edges, grassy areas near the trees for the giant puffball. Look for “dinosaur eggs”, large, rounded, ball shaped fungi that range in size from baseball to larger that a basketball. Most guides list the giant puffball as fruiting from August until October, but I have found them as late as mid December.

There are several species of Calvatia. Most can only be differentiated at maturity, well past the delicious stage. No bother, all are edible if two rules are unerringly followed. First, cut the mushroom from top to bottom. There MUST be NO sign of any mushroom structure. Secondly, the entire interior MUST be pure white. Lincoff refers to the Calvatia group as being choice edibles and I suppose I agree. They at least have a much firmer, meatier texture than the marshmellowlike Lycoperdons.

Giant puffballs make a good meat substitute. I really like them in any recipe that calls for breading and frying. To prepare cut them into ½ inch thick “steaks”, bread and fry. The possibilities are almost endless, think: chicken fried puffball with sherry/cream gravy, puff ball scallopini, puffball parmesan (my favorite), sweet & sour puffball etc. etc…  I’ve never preserved puffball, but I believe any of the methods I’ve outlined earlier would work well. Contrary to popular belief they are NOT alien pods (remember invasion of the body snatchers?), they are “Good Eats” (flagrantly stolen from Alton Brown).

Enjoy nature’s bounty; the cold is soon upon us.

Steve Peek
Field mycologist and long standing member of the Asheville Mushroom