Today I went on my first proper fungus foray of the year. Being the end of August, I figured I had my timing right. However, it seems many of the species I found had been out for some time, and I should have headed out a week ago. I was especially saddened to come across eight Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) in a wood that had become inedible. They do, however, provide an opportunity to show the stages of puffball development.
As suggested by its name, the giant puffball looks like a large white ball, usually around 20-30cm in diameter, with the record specimen 84cm across! When edible they sound solid when tapped and reveal soft, but firm, white marshmallow-like flesh.
As the spores mature, the flesh turns yellow and is no longer good to eat.
Finally it becomes a brown ball, which puffs out spores when kicked. The average puffball produces around 7 trillion spores, but only a fraction become new puffballs or we would be knee deep in them.
On this trip I had to navigate through a cow herd to find a fantastically large specimen, only to find that it too was past its best. If only I’d gone out a few days earlier! However, they will produce more this season, and I will be ready…
All in all, this adventure yielded only a single edible puffball. I peeled off the skin and cut away the bits that have been munched by slugs, to leave these little ‘steaks’ to be kept in good condition in the fridge overnight and covered in egg white and breadcrumbs to be fried in butter tomorrow for breakfast! For my vegan friends, just frying in oil with garlic is also great; they are a fantastic, free, wild tofu substitute.