No, not those magic mushrooms. These are puffball mushrooms, the culinary delicacy with a mild earthy flavor and near limitless uses.
My Puffball Mushroom Story
The region where I live is a haven for mushrooms. As a professional chef working in mushroom-land, it wasn’t surprising that I had a “mushroom guy” who grew and foraged mushrooms. Every so often he would surprise me with foraged mushrooms to play with such as hen of the woods, hedgehog mushrooms, and morels. I was relatively familiar with all of these mushrooms, but I will never forget the day he walked in carrying a basketball-sized, white orb. He called it a puffball and it took him a while to convince me that it was actually a mushroom. I had never seen a mushroom of that size before! Luckily, it was delicious and led to a variety of creative culinary endeavors.
What are Puffball Mushrooms?
Puffballs are a form of wild edible mushroom found throughout the central and eastern United States and Canada. They grow just about anywhere, from fields to forest, and are typically foraged during the late summer and early fall months.
They’re the perfect starter mushroom for fledgling foragers. Puffballs are easy to spot and don’t really have a dangerous or poisonous look-alike. They grow extremely large with some reaching watermelon-like proportions. Puffballs, when ripe for harvest, are perfectly white inside and out. They’ll start to change color when ready to release their spores (at this stage you should not eat them), and can be black, brown, green, yellow, or purple. The rule of thumb is that if the puffball is not white do not eat it.
Cooking with Puffballs
A puffball’s size makes it a boon in the kitchen. Feeding a large family? Puffballs have you covered. Not only are puffballs large, but they are also flavorful. They have a very mild taste, with a hint of earthiness. Puffballs are like sponges, absorbing all the flavors of your marinade or spice blend. The only downside to puffballs is you have to cook them quickly, their shelflife is limited (1-2 days), and should be refrigerated right after harvesting.
If you happen to get your hands on a puffball, they make excellent substitutes for portobello, cremini, or button. Try them in any of these recipes: