Allow me to introduce you to two groups of fungus: one of which containing perhaps the most thrilling find in the mushroom kingdom, the Giant Puffball; the other, the absolute bane of my foraging escapades: Earth Balls. I won’t defile this post with a description of these far-too-ubiquitous-already toadstools here, but divert you to my Earth Balls page in the Poisonous Species section.
The Puffball Family
It doesn’t take much for me to become sidetracked into a quick mushroom hunt, and as soon as I spotted a cluster of these little beauties – The Stump Puffball – I was off. I thought it was getting a bit late in the season for Puffballs – I found my first Meadow Puffball way back at the start of August – but how wrong I was. A five minute walk through a Beech forest brought me upon a patch of Common Puffballs, and had me cursing that I didn’t have my camera with me to show you a huddle of these pillowy little clouds growing in situ. But, no matter, for these are the most simple of mushrooms to identify.
The Puffballs you are most likely to find are The Common Puffball, The Stump Puffball, and The Meadow Puffball. For further pictures and descriptions of these I direct you to John Harris’ excellent blog The Mushroom Diary, and to my Edible Mushrooms A-Z page. Their tastes are all much of a muchness, as is their texture – try to think of a savoury marshmallow and you’re almost there. If you find some (and you are 100% certain that they are what you think they are) try one raw and you will see what I mean.
The other Puffball you may have the good fortune to come across – and of which I have only had the pleasure once – is The Giant Puffball. These, by all accounts, can be truly massive – the largest ever recorded was reportedly 120cm across. The Giant Puffball that I found was about the size of a football, and indeed this is about the only thing that you are likely to confuse this mushroom with – or maybe a small igloo.
Before you start frying/stuffing/grilling/scoffing your puffballs, just be sure that they are pure white in the centre, like these in the picture. As puffballs mature their white centres turn a yellowy earwax sort of colour. Don’t eat them at this stage – not because they are dangerous, but because they are foul. Try my Warm Puffball and Celeriac Salad for something tasty and different.