How to cook a Giant Puffball
…by which I mean mushroom, not skirt. This morning I found three giant puffballs growing on the edge of a field, and decided to pick the best and bring it home to cook. We had puffballs growing in the same area 2 or 3 years ago, but that time I dithered until it was too late to eat them. This time, when I spotted those miraculous white bulges in the grass, I decided to sieze the day (despite the cautionary tale of Claudius and his ceps). Giant puffballs are unlike any other fungi so there is virtually no chance of mistaken identity. If in any doubt – or even if not, if you’re as cautious as me – check with a good book like Richard Mabey’s ‘Food for Free’.
1. First find your puffball. Three days of sunshine meant perfect mushrooming conditions (they can get slimy and waterlogged in the rain). If you’ve seen them in previous years, they are likely to turn up in the same spot sooner or later: I’ve been keeping an eye on that patch of field for some time. Of the three I found today, the biggest – about the size of a watermelon – was old, leathery and brown, and released acrid clouds of olive-coloured ‘smoke’ (spoors) when tapped. (This is a great game as far as young children are concerned!) Another was just past its best: white but split and browing on top. The third was perfect for eating: white, firm and round, with a fresh wholesome ‘mushroomy’ smell.
2. Twist it gently out of the ground and brush off the worst of the earth and beasties. Woodlice and little worms like to burrow in to the puffball’s flesh but, if it’s young, they won’t have got far beyond the skin. Older puffballs come loose of their own accord and can roll about (another good game). Bring it home – not in a plastic bag, as it’ll go slimy very quickly. I forgot to weigh today’s find, but it was heavy enough to make my arm ache by the time we got home!
3. Trim off any dirty or insecty bits, rather than washing it – water will spoil the lovely bloom of the skin.
4. Peel off the outer skin – it will come away quite easily. Don’t peel any bits that you are not planning to eat at once, as it will keep better in its skin.
5. Slice it into steaks or dice it into smaller pieces as you wish. Heat a nob of butter in a frying pan, and toss the pieces in the butter for a few minutes until they are golden all over.
6. Toss in some chopped parsley, grate in a little lemon peel, add a twist of black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. (Chopped bacon would be very good with it too, for carnivores.) Spoon it on to plates and eat it while it’s hot. It has a very delicate mushroomy flavour and a light, melting texture, almost like an omlette. There may be healthier ways of cooking it, but there can’t be many more delicious ways! What more satisfying meal can you have than something freshly foraged and simply cooked, eaten within an hour of growing.
And a pleasing postscript: the puffball was so enormous that three of us ate less than a third of it for lunch; so I took the rest down to the school gates in the afternoon and carved off chunks for some other mums who were brave enough to want to try it. The children were fascinated by the size of it. This one puffball, then, has provided meals for four families – and we still have a little left for our supper!