Giant Puffball Mushrooms

Autumn is slowly returning, but not before a bit more sunshine and a bountiful September harvest. Last weekend, Mark and I went for a long walk in the Berkshire countryside and couldn’t help but do a bit of foraging. The hedgerows are bursting at the seams with blackberries, sloes, elderberries, hawthorn berries, rosehips and even apples. We ended up with quite the haul which has been keeping me busy. One thing I did not expect to find, though, was a little patch of giant puffball mushrooms!

Finding and identifying giant puffball mushrooms

Giant puffball mushrooms, Calvatia gigantea, grow in late Summer/early Autumn and they can be found in meadows, fields, deciduous woodland, and I found my first one in a hedgerow.

Now here’s something I can’t stress enough when identifying any wild plants or fungi – this blog is not intended as a foraging or plant identification guide – it’s of the utmost importance to follow a trusted identification guide or have an expert with you, particularly when mushroom foraging. The consequences of misidentifying a mushroom can literally be deadly.

Thankfully there aren’t really any deadly mushrooms that look much like a giant puffball, and that’s why so far it’s the only mushroom that I’ve dared to forage and eat as I would usually leave well alone.

What I look out for:

  • The size – something about the size of a football is less likely to be confused with anything else. There’s not much that gets as big as a giant puffball mushroom…apart from…well, footballs! Smaller puffballs could get confused with some pretty darn deadly species so are best avoided.
  • Puffball mushrooms have no stem, just a slight stub where they attach to the ground.
  • Puffball mushrooms also have no gills (the ribbed bits hat some mushrooms have under their caps).
  • A bright white specimen is best. Anything that’s starting to go brown or yellow is likely to be too mature. Once giant puffball mushrooms mature they form trillions of tiny spores that aren’t good for you and probably aren’t too tasty either!
  • Markings or tunnelling might signify little grubs or insects that I don’t fancy sharing my dinner with.

As always I follow My Golden Rules of Foraging, plus these extra tips for giant puffball mushrooms:

  • If there’s any doubt about identification, do not pick or eat the mushroom.

Cooking with giant puffball mushrooms

If you are lucky enough to have a giant puffball mushroom to deal with, here are a few storage/preparation tips:

  • Ideally you should eat a puffball mushrooms fresh, but they can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days. Pop it in a paper bag or wrap in a tea towel to avoid condensation which will make the mushroom soggy – yuk.
  • Don’t wash the mushroom as it will absorb the water – just remove thick skin layer on the outside.
  • Cut the mushroom in half down the middle and check that it’s completely white throughout and not starting to form those yucky spores.

Giant puffball mushrooms are actually really versatile and incredibly yummy. The simplest, and frankly one of the tastiest ways to cook them is to slice them fairly thick and just fry them in a fair bit of butter until they’re a beautiful golden colour. They go really nicely with eggs so we had ours with poached eggs, fresh chives, and a little salad of chopped homegrown tomatoes with a drizzle of cider vinegar.

You could also try a giant puffball mushroom schnitzel or katsu. Slice and coat the pieces in panko crumbs with a bit of seasoning and shallow fry until nice and crispy. They’re great with chips or you could even make a delicious giant puffball mushroom katsu curry!

Needless to say that giant puffball mushrooms are a rarity and not exactly something you can pick up from your local Waitrose, so dehydrating them can make the fun last a bit longer. Slice the mushroom really thinly – as thinly as you possibly can – and lay the pieces on a baking tray making sure they’re not overlapping and the air can get around them. Place in an oven either just with the pilot light on, or if that’s broken like ours is, just on the lowest temperature your oven will do. Keep the oven door slightly ajar and leave to dry out overnight. The slices will dry nicely without turning brown. The next morning, whizz them up in a spice grinder and pop the yummy white powder in a jar for when you want to use it. Spoon some into mac & cheese, risotto or anything really to thicken it up and give it a nice mushroom flavour without turning it grey like normal mushrooms do.

Have you ever eaten a giant puffball mushroom? What did you do with it?

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