It’s hard to describe the wonderful taste of the giant puffball, because you can’t use that old cliche, “It tastes like chicken.” In fact, fried slices of this fungus don’t taste quite like anything else. There is definitely a mushroomy odor, but the flavor is mild, and the texture is smooth and soft. It almost melts in your mouth.
The giant puffball, Calvatia gigantea, is one of the easiest wild fungi to identify, and with a few precautions there really isn’t any way to mistake a poisonous species for it. This makes it possible to have confidence that you are not going to make a fatal mistake by accidentally eating some poisonous look-alike.
Look for these mushrooms in the late summer and early fall. Although there are many kinds of puffballs, there are none that look like this one after they get past about three inches in diameter. They can be more than a foot across. To begin with, the outer skin will be smooth. It may or may not be pure white, but it won’t have any warts or patterns on it. You want to pick this mushroom while it is immature. That means before the spores form on the inside. You will know the minute you cut one open if it is too old to eat. What you want to see is smooth, white, homogenous flesh. Poke it gently- it should be firm like foam. It it retains the impression like memory foam, it has begun to degrade. If it has begun to turn yellow, or greenish-yellow, you can cut those spots out. However, if it’s gone all slimy yellow, like the one in the third picture, you need to just throw it out.
Once it’s all brown inside, of course it’s inedible, and if you break it open the spores will “puff” out of the hole, looking like smoke.
Two more ways to ascertain for certain that you have an edible puffball are associated with the look of the bottom end, where it was attached to the ground. First, it should not have a stalk. You can see in the picture that there is just a narrowed deformation of the round shape, but no actual stalk.
If you are picking mushrooms that you believe to be puffballs that are smaller than about three inches, it is possible that you might pick some that are not puffballs, but are another mushroom in the cap stage. This is important, because the Amanitas, which are very poisonous, even deadly, can look like little round balls when they first break though the ground. However, if you slice the mushroom lengthwise, you will be able to see the stalk and folded gills within a mushroom that is not a puffball. The puffball will be completely undifferentiated inside, as shown in the pictures.
Puffball flesh quickly deteriorates. You may be able to keep it in the refrigerator for a day or two, but it’s best to have a feast and eat it all up the day you pick it. Don’t wash the puffballs. Water just makes them begin to rot.
Gently brush off any loose dirt from the outside, and if there is soil you can’t easily remove, then you can peel the puffball.
My very favorite way to prepare puffball meat is to slice it about 3/8 inch thick and fry in bacon grease until golden, just a very few minutes on each side. Butter works fine too, but I like the flavor of the bacon grease.
I’ve had it, in the South, breaded and fried. But I’m not a big fan of breading, and I thought it covered up the wonderful, unique taste too much.
Next time you find one of these amazing fungus treats in a meadow or in the woods, why not try a new culinary adventure?