Wild Edibles: How to Identify and Eat the Giant Puffball

 

Disclaimer: Eating certain wild plants can be deadly!!

Be certain to consult a professional (or a really good field guide) in order to positively identify this plant before trying this for yourself. The owners of this site will not be held responsible for any lapses in judgment or stupidity when handling or consuming wild plants.

My first introduction to the Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea) was as a kid roaming through the nearby woods and coming across these big brown balls in the woods (they turn brown in their non-edible spore stage).

My friends and I called them ‘smokebombs’ for obvious reasons — when you stomp on them in their spore stage they explode in a giant cloud of spores. It wasn’t until later that I read that breathing in those spores wasn’t the healthiest thing to do but, hey, as kids we had a lot of fun.

In my college years as I was getting more involved in improving my wilderness survival skills I came across this plant in one of my wild-edible guides and up until then did not realize you could eat them…man, did I miss a delicous wild edible all those years!

Although I have pretty decent wild-plant knowledge and identification skills, as a rule I tend to stay away from eating any mushroom — even if I know that they are edible. That rule applies to all fungi I encounter to this day except for four: the Morel mushroom, Chicken-of-the-Woods, Hen-of-the-Woods, and this mushroom, the Giant Puffball.

How to Identify the Giant Puffball

The Giant Puffball is one of the most easily recognized and easy-to-identify wild edible mushrooms. There really isn’t anything else that looks like it (except maybe a softball or volleyball you may encounter in the woods). For that reason they are an excellent edible mushroom for beginners to get comfortable with.

Here’s what you want to look out for:

size and shape: On average, giant puffballs can range anywhere from golfball size to volleyball size (some are even larger!) and given their ball shape they can be sometimes mistaken for those balls as well! For the most part they are spherical but you will find anomalies that are mishapen.
soft, completely white center with no gills: Be sure there are no gills! This is probably the most important identification trait since some poisonous mushrooms (particularly the amanita species) — when young — look like small puffballs. However, when opened there are gills (and sometimes a stem) inside.

Where and When to Find Giant Puffballs

Season and Range

The best time to find giant puffballs is from late summer through mid-fall anywhere in the U.S.

Location

You’ll want to look for giant puffballs on the ground in well-fertilized fields and pastures or open woods. They also grow in urban areas where there is bare earth and where people tend to discard their trash.

How to Eat the Giant Puffball

Giant puffballs are a great addition to any meal or can be a meal in itself eaten raw or cooked.

Here are two of my favorite ways of enjoying this wild edible:

Fried in Butter

This is a delicious way of eating puffballs. You simply slice them into 1/2 inch slices and fry them in butter:

Made into Tempura

Another favorite method of mine is to fry them in a tempura batter. The recipe is as follows:

  • 1 cup ice water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup flour (sifted is ideal)

Mix the above ingredients, dip some puffball chunks in the batter and fry in your oil of choice…yumm:

I like eating these with a bit of maple syrup. The breakfast of champions:

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