A surfer landed on this blog today after making a search for where to find puffball mushrooms in Ontario. There are a number of varieties of puffballs but I normally come across three kinds, the giant puffball, Calvatia gigantea, the gem-studded puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum or the pear-shaped puffball, Lycoperdon pyriforme. Puffballs are have a pleasant mild taste and a texture that reminds me of firm tofu.
A few notes on identification. As regular readers know, I never recommend anyone eat wild mushrooms, and to those who insist on doing so, I suggest being very very careful what you eat because there are some deadly mushrooms in Ontario, and plenty more that may not kill you but will make you very sick. The giant puffball is an easy to identify mushroom, as they go. It’s likely the only mushroom you’re going to find that grows the size of a soccer ball, and looks like a dirty-white blob. If you cut one in half, it should be pure smooth solid whiteness inside. Until last year, I had only ever seen these growing in fields. However, last season I collected a few beautiful specimens from a deciduous forest. One of the most popular ways to eat giant puffballs is to cut them into steaks, batter them and fry them up, I think you’ll enjoy these cooked up anyway you like mushrooms. In Southern Ontario, giant puffballs appear around the end of August.
Pear shaped puffballs grow on wood, and typically, when you find some, you will find plenty. If you do identify these mushrooms and pick them for the table, only pick them when they are young and still firm and pure white when you cut them in half. Some nasty amanitas in their young form look kind of like a puffball, but if you cut one open, you’ll see a mushroom-shape developing inside. Anytime I collect puffballs with the intention of eating them, I cut every one of them in half to be extra sure each of them is a puffball. I try not to make assumptions, even when they are obvious assumptions.
Gem-studded puffballs have a similar shape to pear-shaped puffballs but they are covered in little bumps or “gems” and they grow in the ground rather than on wood. The same deal applies with these – cut each one open and only eat puffballs that are pure solid white inside. I normally find the gem-studded and pear shaped puffballs in September in our area.
The photo shows some giant puffballs I collected last season along with a bunch of Lactarius deliciosus (Saffron milk caps) I gathered from different parts of the same forest.
A lot of mushrooms are good for drying but puffballs don’t reconstitute well. Some people dry them and then crush them into puffball powder and add that to soups and stews and whatever else. Personally, I don’t bother drying them.