There’s a very good reason to know how to identify the puffball mushroom. Mushroom hunting often involves finding mushrooms you didn’t have any intention of foraging for.
You head out in the middle of morel season, hoping to discover a basketful for that evening’s dinner party, and then all of a sudden there they. A type of mushroom that you’d only ever heard about.
That’s how I was introduced to the puffball mushroom. It wasn’t that I was out hunting specifically for it. Instead, I was out looking for a variety of mushrooms to fill a chicken pie I wanted to create the following day.
My bucket was almost empty after a couple of hours trekking through the forest when, boom, there it was. A mushroom almost 12 inches across.
Thankfully, I was still within cell reception, so I began to frantically search for the behemoth at my feet. Turns out I stumbled onto a Giant Puffball, an edible variety that harbors classic mushroom flavors, perfect for my pie. The first thing I did after harvesting the beast was to return home, my basket well and truly filled.
But I also jumped online and ordered a Giant Puffball Growing Kit. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to discover something new.
The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful
The good thing about puffballs is that they grow in open fields, unattached to trees. This means their spores tend to land anywhere. They also have no visible stalk and grow up to a foot in diameter, although smaller varieties grow as small as 3 inches.
Unfortunately, puffballs have similar-looking cousins, some of which contain toxins bad enough to kill. The young destroying angels and death cap mushrooms tend to be mistaken for puffballs, which leads to some pretty severe side effects.
Always be absolutely sure of what you eat. Should you mistakenly eat a destroying angel or death cap mushroom, these toxic varieties have killed people in under 24 hours. Always practice caution when selecting mushrooms out in the wild.
But the upside of correctly identifying proper puffballs is a mushroom that’s perfect for your next meal. Because of their mild earthy taste, puffballs don’t overpower the dishes you add them to. Instead, they add like a subtle flavor enhancer.
Of course, frying them up on their own in some butter and served with a sprinkle of sea salt and cracked pepper is another way to go. There is something special about a plate filled with nothing but crispy-fried mushroom slices.
How to Eat Puffball Mushroom
Depending on how you prepare your puffball mushroom, they make great additions when served in soups, stews, or in pies. Their texture reminds me of tofu, making them especially suitable for some clear soups, like nice chicken broth. They also make a wonderful replacement for eggplant.
Most importantly, don’t wash your puffball mushroom as they act like giant sponges. Exposing them to water will only increase the water content and that dilutes the flavors themselves.
Rubbing them with a damp cloth is normally enough to remove stubborn dirt and dust, but if you have other concerns, take a sharp knife and peel the skin itself. Better to lose the skin than lose the flavors.
If you do happen to come across a larger specimen and there’s too much mushroom for your purpose, there’s the option to freeze your left-overs, or even dry the remainder out. Both air drying, or drying in the oven or food dehydrator also work well. But if you can, use the puffball mushroom shortly after harvesting to ensure you get the best from the fungus.
How to Identify Puffball Mushroom
The first thing you need to know, before writing up all the recipes you plan to use this mushroom for, is to know exactly how to identify it. Like I mentioned before, this is not a mushroom you want to mix up with something else. The consequences could be fatal.
The great thing about this variety of mushrooms is that they aren’t that difficult to identify. Unlike other varieties that have cousins that almost mirror them, the puffball has some very distinct features that make them almost impossible to mix up with anything else.
So, here are the 3 main things to look out for when you learn how to identify puffball mushroom:
Tip #1: No Gills
Puffball mushrooms have no gills. They create spores inside tiny sacs that release spores when something impacts them, sending great spurts of brown spore clouds into the air.
Tip #2: No Colors
A true puffball mushroom has no colors or markings on them whatsoever. They are perfectly white and that means any hint of color is enough to tell you that the mushroom probably isn’t a puffball.
Tip #3: Marshmallow
The flesh of a puffball looks like a white marshmallow. Or like a sliced lump of mozzarella cheese. So, grab a knife and cut the puffball from top to bottom and look at the lovely marshmallow interior.