Wild Edibles: Giant Puffball Mushroom Calvatia gigantea
The Giant Puffball mushroom (Calvatia gigantea or Langermannia gigantea) is a common sight in many fields and forests. This huge fungus is edible and delicious if prepared properly.
Giant puffballs are extremely easy to identify. They are huge bright white spheres with a smooth outside when young, turning to a cinnamon / tan color as they age. Eventually they turn brown and begin to break away to expose the spore mass inside. They can grow irregularly as they age with bumps and knots forming on the outside, and will grow to a size of approximately 50 cm in diameter.
Giant puffballs grow commonly in richly fertilized fields, often along the outside of playing fields (such as a soccer pitch or baseball diamond), along the edges of farm fields, the edges of gardens, and on relatively dry stream banks.
When harvesting make sure to only pick young, white, smooth puffballs. Once they begin to brown, bacteria and insects will make their way into the puffball and make it very undesirable to eat.
There are several basic ways to prepare puffballs. I recommend them as a substitute for any protein if you are a vegetarian, or for any dish where you want a lower calorie protein.
The most popular way to prepare puffballs is to cut them into slices with a sharp knife. They can be seasoned and then pan fried in butter (or bacon fat, very tasty) or grilled. The puffballs will be finished when the middle is hot, a cooking time of two to three minutes on each side. The slices can be served plain, used for sandwiches, or to add protein to a burger (try it!) or salad.The inside should be bright white and firm, if do not use slices with brown or yellow discoloration.
Grilling will leave the mushroom a bit drier than pan frying so I recommend this method for a sandwich that has an aioli, or sauce as the grilled mushroom will soak up the flavors much better than a pan-fried one.
Puffballs can also be diced into large cubes and added to salads or pasta dishes. You can dice them before or after cooking. I recommend adding them towards the end of the cooking process to avoid mushy mushrooms in your dish.
Batter dipped and breaded puffballs (deep fried or pan fried) are also delicious and are a tantalizing, although not extremely healthy treat. This is a perfect way to convince someone who may not be very excited about these mushrooms to dig in. I prefer using a light tempura style batter with puffballs, as opposed to a cornmeal or breadcrumb breading, since they are rather dense and you don't want to create a super heavy dish. Cutting the puffball into strips before breading or battering, is a great way to make mushroom 'fries'.