The Giant Puffball mushroom or Calvatia gigantean, range in size from about 4” to 27” in diameter. They’re found growing on the ground in meadows, grassland or pasture areas within the central and eastern US and Canada, as well as, parts of Europe, where they feed on dead, organic matter. They are usually found in the late summer or early fall months. Sometimes they are found in circular formations, better known as, “Fairy Rings”.
The young Puffballs will have a white fleshy inside and become more brownish in coloring as they age. When they are ready to release spores, they will be very brown and discolored and cannot be eaten at that stage. The spores will be contained inside of the puffball rather than storing them in gills like some species of mushroom. One mature puffball will contain millions of spores. The exterior of the puffball will begin to crack open just before it is ready to release these spores.
Giant Puffballs are edible up to a certain point and they have a fairly rich earthy or nutty flavor. While you can purchase these mushrooms in many stores, you can also harvest them from the wilds, but it is imperative that you have correctly identified your harvest as Giant Puffballs because they can also be poisonous if not properly identified.
Giant Puffball mushrooms will look like large globules with fibers connecting them to the ground. If you crack open the Puffball, it should be white and the fleshy part should be, soft and creamy. Younger Puffballs will be white while the older ones may have darker coloring. If it’s’ coloring looks yellow, green, purple, brown, black or any other dark color, it is not edible and may even be another variety of mushroom instead of a Giant Puffball. If the inside of the Puffball contains powdery spores, then it is definitely not edible.
These mushrooms don’t really keep well, so, it’s important to eat them soon after harvesting. Improperly stored mushrooms can also cause food poisoning. If you must store them, the younger ones will keep in the refrigerator for about 2-3 days. If you need to store them longer, try drying and reconstituting, although this process may cause the mushroom to become tough and leathery, it can still be used in soups and stews and is a great addition to casseroles, as well.
If you’ve purchased your mushrooms, you may want to transfer them from the plastic bag into a paper bag for storing because stored in plastic, they will become damp and decay fast. You can also store them in the fridge if you place them on a paper towel in the bottom of a glass bowl and cover them with more paper towels.
Don’t wash the mushrooms because it will make them too soft and mushy; it’s preferable to wipe them with a damp cloth. Trim away the covering or cuticle and any bad spots with a paring knife and slice them thin, about ¼” thick pieces and dry them in a 100-200 degree oven unless you have a food dehydrator. (The oven-drying is about a 7-8 hour process.) Dried Puffball mushrooms should be slightly crisp, like potato chips. You can then store them in bags or canning jars until you need them for cooking. Take them out and place them in a warm water soak just before use, in order to rehydrate them.
Giant Puffball mushrooms can also be frozen, but you should cook them first because just freezing will make them mushy. Bake, sauté them in butter or olive oil, with some salt and pepper, then freeze for later use. They are also rather tasty fried in lightly seasoned batter or roasted on the grill.
Like other mushrooms, the Giant Puffballs are full of vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need in order to stay healthy. Calvacin is a cancer-cell inhibitor that is found in the Giant Puffballs. They’re also full of Vitamins like A, B-Complex, Carotene and minerals like Biotin, Copper, Niacin, Phosphorous Potassium, Riboflavin, Selenium and Thiamin.
Used for centuries as medicine for relief from sore throats; as remedies for bleeding wounds and hemorrhages they have a number of healing properties.
A wonderful, tasty, nutritious addition to any soup, stew, casserole or meat dish; they taste succulently wondrous, so, bon appetit!
“The Mushroom & Truffle Book”, by: Jacqui Hurst & Lyn Rutherford
1996, Salamander Books, Ltd.