Monday, August 30, 2010

puffball fail

On one of our recent mountain trips, we found a few giant puffball mushrooms. The specimens we found weren't very large, but ranged in size from that of a lop-sided softball to perhaps a Nerf (tm) football.

Our finds might have actually been a type of sculpted puffball (calvatia sculpta) or Western giant puffballs, but all of the true puffballs are edible, many described as "delicious". Those that we picked were the few that we found that were still quite firm. Puffballs are that family of mushrooms that, as a kid, you used to find in the yard all brown and wizened and that exploded into powder when kicked. The "powder" is spores and the big guys produce "bilyuns and bilyuns".

We took a pair of the smaller specimens and, following the recommendation of a couple of different books and many websites, sliced them, dredged the slices in beaten egg and then in bread crumbs seasoned with salt, pepper, parsley, and grated Parmesan cheese, and fried 'em.


These were ok. The crust was nice and the mushrooms slices had a texture that was most nearly that of good tofu (positing the existence of such a thing)- nearly creamy yet slightly firm. However, there was a bit of a chemical aftertaste that was odd and not really pleasant. A generous splash of siriracha took care of that, but then all you could taste was the hot sauce.

Undaunted, we essayed a variation of a recipe that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall described as "one of the most spectacular and satisfying wild food recipes I have ever cooked".

We took a larger puffball, sliced off the top, then hollowed it out for stuffing.

For that stuffing, we sweated some onion and carrot, then sauteed some chopped porcini and the chopped center portion of the puffball, browned a bit of pheasant, added fresh sage and parsley, deglazed with white wine, then mixed all together along with enough breadcrumbs to get a good texture. This we filled the 'shroom with, placing the excess in a baking dish to go alongside.

The puffball itself was wrapped in buttered foil (for support) and then baked for a good long while in a medium oven. After an hour, you could smell something from the kitchen. Something good, underlain with a vile, chemical, chlorine sort of scent. The latter strengthened.

Looks good, right?

It was not. The pervasive chemical note rendered it inedible (at least, for those not starving). The stuffing from the baking dish was ok, but still had a faint whiff of the high school chemistry lab about it.

Puffballs are described as inedible when old or soft, but these were firm and white inside. In "Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America", Fischer and Bessette describe the giant puffball as having a "delicate taste and texture" that is "truly unique and wonderful". We've eaten some puffballs before that were ok, if unexceptional (in other words, pretty flavorless). Maybe we found some growing on the wrong mountain or something. However, what with ceps in them thar hills, I'll be hard pressed to try another puffball anytime soon.


Trout Caviar said...

Hi Mike: I think I know the smell and taste you're talking about. I recall it from some of the smaller puffballs varieties I've eaten. With all the boletes, etc., that you have to play around with, you might not want to bother with more puffball experiements, but if you do, you might want to try just dicing them up and sauteeing without any coating or wrapping. That way those chemical aromas might get a chance to cook off.

Puffballs, as big as they are, can be a great addition to a duxelles of mixed mushrooms to cook ahead, freeze in batches to use for, say, stuffing a grouse or trout, or adding to a bechamel for an extraordinary lasagne.

I saw Hugh make that stuffed puffball deal on the River Cottage show, and I must say, it did not look good to me--I'll bet his kitchen smelled the same way yours did! For all his good points, he does not strike me as the most self-critical gourmand in the world....

Anyway, seeing the porcini post, I'm not worried that you're suffering for lack of good fungi. Jealous, I am. Though our hens-of-the-woods are starting to show up, so hopefully I'll be okay.

Best~ Brett

mdmnm said...


Thanks for the advice! If we come across a couple more really prime puffballs, we might give them a try in a duxelles. Hope your fall foraging continues to be productive. Our rains have about stopped and,with that, we're probably about through our mushroom season and will be relying on those dried and frozen.

That's ok, the dog tells me we need to chase birds just as soon as this bit of fishing gets done.


Steve Bodio said...

"We've eaten some puffballs before that were ok, if unexceptional (in other words, pretty flavorless)."

Exactly. My experience has been limited to a couple of monsters from the high Mags-- not "chemical", just incredibly bland and too big to finish.We have enough good species I no longer bother.

mdmnm said...


Bland I was prepared for, but the off-scent was way too much when there are boletes in the woods!

Kara said...

Did you PEEL your puffball?? The peels are awful, and can cause many people "tummy trouble" as well. Been eating puballs for ages, and only time they tasted weird was if I didn't get all the peel off, or when they were starting to go yellow inside.

Kara said...

Mike, Did you PEEL your puffballs? I've been eating them prepared various ways for ages, and the only time they ever tasted weird was when I missed a bit of the peel, or when they were starting to go yellow inside. The peelings can give some folks "tummy trouble" as well. In my experience, the sterile base area is sometimes tough or grainy, so I usually cut that off. Don't give up! Happy shrooming!

mdmnm said...

We did not! Have to try that the next time we find some big ones. Thanks for the tip!

Kara said...

Please do! I think you will be pleased. The peels come off readily enough, kinda like peeling a hard boiled egg. Just make sure you get it all. Just dragged two bigguns back home- the size of my head! Having puffball, swiss, tomato, and ham omeletes for dinner tonight, and sautee and freeze the rest for another time!

Kara said...

Puffballs don't have an intense kind of flavor the way the way boletes, say, hasve. They are quite mellow, but still mushroomy enough to know that's what you're eating. The texture is soft and marshmallowy, like a fluffy omelete. They are beautiful with eggs, so have some for breakfast sometime! I also like to sautee a slice and put them on a hot sandwch or burger. Very nice.