Monday October 8, 2012

Early fall is giant puffball season.

It is evidenced this year by the emails and letters I have received (See below) not the actual 'shrooms I have found.

It use to be, when we were living in Dalton, we would get a couple large ones - nearly soccer-, if not basketball-size - every few years in our back yard.

The finds were usually in late September, early October, if I remember correctly.

(And, keep in mind that I am also a fisherman, so they may not, in reality, have been as large as I say.) Without fail, I could be sure of finding one, usually a whopper, on a hillside near Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox, the location shown to me by the sanctuary's former director, Alvah Sanborn.

I will never know what thrilled me more: Learning the location or Alvah's sharing it with me.

These softball-size, but often much larger whitish mushrooms are found in grassy places and even in open woods. When cut in half from top to bottom, they should show no differentiation inside, but appear as a spongy solid, looking somewhat like a fine Styrofoam sphere, with no signs of stem or gills.

This is especially important if the specimen is softball size or smaller.

Some very poisonous types look like small puffballs when just popping out of the earth, One mushroom website run by a fellow who calls himself "Wildman," warns puffball hunters to also beware of seasoned soccer balls lost in grassy fields - jokingly, of course.


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True giant puffballs may be misshapen, yet spherical, and if to be cooked and eaten, should be white throughout.

If it is yellowish or brown within, it is approaching maturity and won't be as flavorful - and possibly even be toxic.

I believe the world record is one with a 67-inch circumference, but even a soccer-ball-size Calvatia gigantea will make a good meal.

There are many recipes, and each puffball hunter has his or her own.

In the past I have sliced them into pieces the size of Texas toast, dipped the slices into egg and fried them up like french toast, with a little garlic.

Other times, I simply crumbled the puffball and fried it in olive oil, or, before I knew better, butter, with either lemon or garlic. I may try fritters the next time I come across one.

DEAR THOM: We thought that you and your readers might like the enclosed photo. It is a giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) found in Lanesborough. It was completely white inside and therefore suitable for eating.

We ate some (fried in olive oil with salt and pepper, very nice mild mushroom flavor), froze some and gave some to friends.

Interestingly, our daughter found a similar giant puffball about 40 yards from this one about 35 years ago. I guess there's a chance that both of them could be the fruiting bodies of a single very large mycelium.

It's kind of mysterious as to what conditions lead to fruiting. We hope that we don't have to wait another 35 years to see (and eat) another one. We always enjoy your column LARRY AND ALICE SPATZ, Lanesborough

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email Naturewatch@live.com