Is that a giant puffball or a soccer ball lurking amongst the periwinkle?

Remember how much fun you had as a child stomping on puffballs and watching them erupt into a cloud of dusty spores? You may not have realized it at the time, but you were helping a tasty edible mushroom distribute its trillion-strong legion of spores.  

By the time you became a pawn in the puffball’s evolutionarily honed procreation scheme, it was too late for you to throw the mushroom on the grill. Whether you were stomping on one of the smaller pear-shaped or gem-studded puffballs or the aptly named giant puffball, the fungus’ solid white firm interior had already turned to a vomit-hued spore slurry. If you ever did stomp on a puffball in the right stage for eating, you were probably sorely disappointed when the mushroom broke into fleshy, earthbound chunks that resembled Styrofoam.

This pure white, undifferentiated flesh may not explode, but it does have a marshmallowy texture and scallopy flavor that shines when grilled, broiled, or deep-fried. Keep your eyes out for puffballs from now through October, but stick to the giant (anywhere from the size of your fist to the size of a small hog) ones until you have more experience under your belt. 

The blander pear-shaped and gem-studded puffballs must always be sliced open to ensure that the flesh is pure white with no outline of gills or a cap. This is vital, since they can be confused for the buttons of deadly Amanitas. The giant puffball, however, is one of the most distinctive edible mushrooms; just watch out for its notorious lookalike – the soccer ball!

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of July 5, 2011