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  • Writer's pictureThe Wild Foodie

The ever so.. Giant Puffball Mushroom

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

One of the more amazing mushrooms is one that will suddenly appear in a field or on the border of a wood, almost the size of a football.


Puffball mushrooms are a fascinating group of fungi that have been used as food sources for centuries. Their unique characteristics and versatility make them a valuable ingredient in various culinary traditions around the world. In this essay, we will explore the edible uses of puffball mushrooms, their history, and their significance in different cultures.


Puffball mushrooms belong to the scientific genus Calvatia and family Lycoperdaceae. They are characterised by their round or pear-shaped fruiting bodies and a spongy interior that contains spores. While there are many species of puffball mushrooms, we will focus on the giant puffball in this post, but also highlight some of the inedible species later on.


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Giant Puffball
Giant Puffball

Giant Puffball Identification


Identification:

The giant puffball mushroom is quite distinctive in appearance. When mature, it can reach impressive sizes, ranging from the size of a tennis ball to as large as a soccer ball. It has a round or slightly flattened shape and a smooth, white outer surface. The flesh inside is white and firm when young, but it becomes powdery and brown as it matures and releases spores.


Description:

The giant puffball mushroom has a unique structure. It lacks gills, like many other mushrooms, and instead, it produces spores internally. These spores are released through a pore at the top of the mushroom when it reaches maturity. The flesh is initially firm and edible, with a mild taste reminiscent of tofu or mushrooms.


Habitat:

Giant puffball mushrooms can be found in a variety of habitats, including grassy fields, meadows, pastures, and woodlands. They typically grow on the ground, often in clusters or alone. They have a mycorrhizal association with trees, meaning they form a mutually beneficial relationship with tree roots.


Season:

In the UK, the giant puffball season typically begins in late summer, around August, and continues through to autumn, often until October. The exact timing may vary depending on weather conditions and geographic location. During this period, keep an eye out for these large mushrooms when exploring suitable habitats.



Where to find the Puffball Mushroom in the UK


Below are some of the habitats that you will generally find the giant puffball Mushroom:


Grassy Areas: Explore grassy habitats like meadows, pastures, and lawns. Giant puffballs often grow in open spaces with grass.


Woodland Edges: Search along the edges of woodlands, where there's a transition between grassy areas and wooded regions.


Moisture and Drainage: Seek areas with moderate moisture but well-drained soil. Avoid waterlogged spots.


Late Summer to Early Autumn: Giant puffballs typically appear from late summer to early autumn. Plan your search during this period for the best chances of finding them.


Is the Giant Puffball Mushroom Edible?


Puffball mushrooms have a long history of culinary use, with evidence of their consumption dating back to ancient times. In Europe, they were valued as a food source during the medieval period. Puffballs were particularly popular in the 16th century and were commonly included in various recipes and preparations.

Slices of Puffball Mushroom
Slices of Puffball Mushroom

One of the primary edible uses of puffball mushrooms is in cooking. When young and fresh, puffballs have a firm, white flesh that is mild in flavour. They can be used as a substitute for meat or incorporated into vegetarian and vegan dishes. Puffballs can be sliced, cubed, or diced and added to stir-fries, stews, soups, and pasta dishes. They can also be breaded and fried, creating a crispy exterior while maintaining a moist interior.


One popular method of preparing puffball mushrooms is to slice them and grill or roast them. This cooking technique enhances their natural flavours and imparts a smoky taste. Grilled puffballs can be served as a side dish, added to salads, or used as a topping for pizzas and sandwiches. Even as a base for a pizza.


Since every piece is edible, one of these can feed several people. When you cut into the flesh, the only thing that matters is that it is still white; if it becomes yellow or grey, it has passed its expiration date. It tastes much better when dipped in beaten egg and breadcrumbs before being sliced into steaks and fried in a little garlic and olive oil. It should be sautéed in olive oil with some garlic, chopped parsley, thyme, and lemon juice, according to Antonio Carluccio. The puffball can not be preserved or dried, so enjoy it fresh.



Another interesting characteristic of puffball mushrooms is their ability to produce spores. As the fruiting bodies mature, the outer skin of the puffball ruptures, releasing a cloud of spores into the air. In some culinary traditions, this unique feature is exploited by using mature puffballs as a seasoning. Chefs would take mature puffballs and collect the spores, which are rich in umami flavours. These spores can be sprinkled over dishes as a natural seasoning, adding a depth of flavour to various recipes.

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How to cook Puffball Mushrooms


Pan Frying: One of the most popular ways to cook puffball mushrooms is by pan frying them. Begin by slicing the puffball mushrooms into thin pieces. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add a bit of butter or oil. Once the butter or oil is hot, add the sliced mushrooms to the pan. Pan fry them for a few minutes, allowing the mushrooms to release their moisture and develop a nice, golden-brown exterior. Season the mushrooms with salt, pepper, and herbs to taste. Pan fried puffball mushrooms make a great side dish or addition to various recipes.


Grilling: Another tasty option is to grill puffball mushrooms. Start by cutting the mushrooms into thick slices. Preheat your grill to medium heat. You can brush the mushroom slices with a little oil or marinade to enhance their flavour and prevent sticking. Place the slices on the grill and cook them until they are tender and have grill marks. Grilled puffball mushrooms can add a smoky and charred element to your dishes.


Frying: If you're looking for a crispy and indulgent preparation, consider frying puffball mushrooms. Slice the mushrooms and dip them in a batter of your choice, such as tempura batter. Heat oil in a deep fryer or a deep frying pan. Carefully place the battered mushroom slices into the hot oil and fry them until they turn golden and crispy. This technique gives the mushrooms a delightful crunch while retaining their unique texture.


Roasting: Roasting puffball mushrooms in the oven is a simple and flavourful option. Begin by placing whole or sliced mushrooms on a baking sheet. Drizzle them with oil and sprinkle with seasonings. Roast the mushrooms at a moderate temperature until they are tender and slightly caramelised. Roasting intensifies the mushrooms' natural flavours and creates a delicious roasted aroma.


Stuffing: Larger puffball mushrooms can be stuffed with a variety of fillings. To prepare them this way, carefully clean out the mushroom's interior to create space for the stuffing. Stuff the mushrooms with a mixture of your choice, which could include breadcrumbs, cheese, herbs, vegetables, or even cooked meat. Bake the stuffed mushrooms until the filling is cooked and the mushrooms are tender. Stuffed puffball mushrooms make for an impressive appetiser or main dish.


Drying: If you want to preserve your puffball mushrooms for later use, drying is a great option. Thinly slice the mushrooms and place them in a food dehydrator or an oven set to a low temperature. Allow them to dry until they become crisp. Once fully dried, store the mushrooms in an airtight container. You can rehydrate them later and use them in soups, stews, or other recipes.


Freezing: To preserve puffball mushrooms in the freezer, start by slicing them. Next, blanch the slices by briefly boiling them for a minute or two, then immediately transferring them to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Pat the blanched slices dry and place them in airtight containers or freezer bags. Freezing helps lock in their flavour and texture, allowing you to enjoy them even after the season has passed.

Remember that cooking times may vary based on factors like the thickness of the slices and the specific cooking method you choose.


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Giant Puffball Recipes


Here are a few delicious recipes you can try with giant puffball mushrooms:


Giant Puffball Parmesan

Ingredients:

1 giant puffball mushroom

1 cup bread crumbs

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 eggs, beaten

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil for frying

Spicy tomato sauce for serving


Instructions:

  • Slice the giant puffball into thick rounds.

  • In a shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

  • Dip each puffball slice into the beaten eggs and then coat it in the bread crumb mixture.

  • Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat.

  • Fry the coated puffball slices until golden brown on both sides.

  • Serve with a spicy tomato sauce for dipping.


Giant Puffball Stir-Fry

Ingredients:

1 giant puffball mushroom

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 onion, sliced

2 red peppers, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped spring onions for garnish


Instructions:

  • Cut the giant puffball into bite-sized pieces.

  • Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat.

  • Add the onion, red peppers, and garlic to the pan and stir-fry for a few minutes until they start to soften.

  • Add the puffball pieces to the pan and continue to stir-fry for another 5-7 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked through.

  • Drizzle soy sauce and sesame oil over the stir-fry and toss to coat evenly.

  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  • Garnish with chopped spring onions and serve hot with rice or noodles.


Grilled Giant Puffball Steaks

Ingredients:

1 giant puffball mushroom

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt and pepper to taste


Instructions:

  • Slice the giant puffball into thick steak-like pieces.

  • In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, crushed garlic, dried thyme, salt, and pepper to make a marinade.

  • Brush the marinade over both sides of the puffball steaks and let them marinate for about 30 minutes.

  • Preheat your grill to medium-high heat.

  • Place the puffball steaks on the grill and cook for about 4-5 minutes per side, or until they develop grill marks and are cooked through.

  • Serve hot as a vegetarian steak alternative with your favourite side dishes.


These recipes should help you make the most of your giant puffball mushroom. Enjoy your culinary adventure!


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Giant Puffball Medicial Uses


Furthermore, puffballs have been used in traditional medicine for their potential health benefits. While scientific studies on the medicinal properties of puffball mushrooms are limited, they have been historically associated with various health benefits. Some cultures believe that puffballs possess anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. Puffball extracts have been used topically to treat skin conditions such as eczema and wounds.


A Note on some Genus of Puffball

Giant Puffball look alike Scleroderma Citrinum
Toxic: Scleroderma Citrinum

It is worth mentioning that not all puffball mushrooms are edible. Some species of puffballs, particularly those that belong to the genus Scleroderma, are potentially toxic, at the very least inedible, and should be avoided. Therefore, it is crucial to correctly identify the puffball species before consuming them. Seek guidance from experienced foragers, mushroom experts, or reference books to ensure safe identification.


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Summing up

In conclusion, puffball mushrooms have a rich history as an edible ingredient in various culinary traditions. They are prized for their unique texture, mild flavour, and versatility in cooking. From being used as a meat substitute to adding depth of flavour as a natural seasoning, puffballs have found a place in the kitchens of different cultures. However, it is essential to exercise caution when foraging for puffballs and ensure accurate identification to avoid the consumption of toxic species. With their long-standing culinary heritage, puffball mushrooms continue to captivate food enthusiasts and offer an intriguing addition to the world of edible fungi.


Note: It's essential to exercise caution and ensure accurate identification before consuming any wild mushrooms. While giant puffballs are generally considered safe to eat when young and white inside, it's important to avoid any mushrooms that show signs of decay or have turned brown and powdery. If you're uncertain about the identification, it's best to consult an experienced mushroom foraging expert for guidance.


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