Since I was a kid, I've been delighted by mushrooms. I love spotting them growing out of trees and popping up on lawns, and I also love eating them in risotto, soup, and on the grill. However, I was never interested in foraging for wild mushrooms—I know that foraging can be practiced safely, but I'm an anxious type to who prefers to leave such endeavors to the experts.
However, that changed this year. As reported by Twin Cities news website Racket (subscribe and support local alternative journalism!), 2021 has been a great year for giant puffball mushrooms. They truly live up to their name: the smooth, spherical, white mushrooms can grow up to three feet in diameter and weigh up to 40 pounds. Giant puffballs are edible, and due to their unique size and appearance, even novice mushroom hunters can easily identify them.
Earlier this fall, I discovered several giant puffballs in a local park along my running route. After a few weeks of watching them grow, and inspired by the Racket article, I decided to try foraging one and eating it. Having no idea what puffball picking entailed, I set off on my mission with a plastic shopping bag and box cutter. The shopping bag was a useful way to transport my find, and the box cutter was unnecessary—I just tipped the mushroom over and it released from the ground.
Mike was initially skeptical of my scheme ("Before you cook the mushroom, you better wash it really well, a dog probably peed on it") but he came around once he saw my awe-inspiring fungus.
Preparing the puffball was pretty straightforward: I sliced it in half, checking to make sure the interior was white all the way through (if it's brown, don't eat it—it's started releasing spores and will taste skunky).
Then I peeled off the tough outer layer—since it was already separating from the soft, spongy interior, I was able to do this step by hand, using a knife to loosen the outer layer in a few spots.
I decided to keep things simple for my first attempt at cooking the puffball. I sliced the peeled puffball into inch-thick slices. In a large skillet, I melted some butter over medium heat, and then added the puffball slices, seasoning them with salt and pepper. I cooked the puffball slices for a few minutes on each side, until golden-brown.
How did it taste? I found the flavor to be very mild, almost neutral. Compared to other mushrooms, the texture is unusual, with a marshmallow-like fluffiness.
Since the puffball's flavor is so understated, I think they taste best with some extra seasoning. My favorite method was to saute some minced garlic in butter, then add the puffball slices and season them with salt and pepper. After cooking them for a few minutes, I flipped the slices over and added a couple of tablespoons of white wine to the skillet. I continued cooking the mushrooms until the wine evaporated and the mushrooms were golden-brown on both sides.
If you don't want to cook the entire puffball at once, I found that an unpeeled puffball portion kept well in the refrigerator for a day or two, wrapped loosely with plastic wrap. The cooked leftovers also reheat well in the microwave.
Would I forage and cook a giant puffball again? Absolutely! It was a fun project, and it's made me appreciate mushrooms even more.
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