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.
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