The long summer days and hedgerows of plenty seem almost distant memories, except for the preserves and stores of dried and pickled delights. As the leaves fall silently from their branches covering the woodland floor, they create a carpet of safety, allowing for all sorts of mushrooms and fungi to thrive and explode into a magical assortment of shapes and colours.
Where you'll find them:
Both varieties are commonly found in woodland glades, pastureland, and even coastal land exposed to the sea. The weather conditions are favourable for foraging during a warmish but damp period, and before a hard frost.
How to forage them:
You should only harvest and collect well-matured puffball specimens – never pick them in the early 'button' stage, as many mushrooms and fungi, including some poisonous ones, look very similar in these early stages of development. Both varieties should not be eaten when they're yellow. As with all foods, the body's acceptance of new foods differs greatly with everyone, so always only eat a small amount of a new wild food at first, to see how your body accepts it.
The main fruiting part of the common puffball is between 4-7cm tall and 3-5cm wide. The colour initially is white to greyish, then later yellow, finally becoming a dirty yellow/brown, leaving a dry paper-like outer full of dust. The round, slightly pear-shaped fruit of the common puffball is covered with tiny spine-like growths that will brush off if rubbed. The fruit is mounted on a short bulbous stem.
This easily identifiable giant relative of the small common puffball is about 15-30cm wide and almost ball-like in shape. The giant puffball is prized over the common variety for flavour and texture. Its colour is a creamy white that turns yellow after time.
Fungi and mushrooms are well documented and there are many good books on the subject, but as with any wild food identification, first-hand experience and identification from an experienced forager is always essential.
Fried Puffball Mushrooms
Breaded, fried puffball mushrooms
Fresh puffball mushrooms
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
High heat cooking oil like grapeseed
All purpose flour
Eggs beaten well with a splash of dairy or water
Fresh arugula or whatever greens you have/preferFresh lemon juice or wedge
Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat an oven to 225, or to a warm setting.
Season the flour with a couple good pinches of salt and mix well. If you can grind the salt in a spice grinder, do it.
If you haven't already, slice off the root end of the puffball and inspect for any bug damage, the flesh of the mushroom should be perfectly white, not at all greenish-yellow.
Using a long, sharp slicing knife, slice the puffball into 1/2 inch or so slices. Liberally coat the mushroom slices in flour, then tap off the excess and dip them in beaten egg, then the panko breadcrumbs. Heat a generous amount of oil in a pan (1/4-1/2 a cup should be good depending on the size of your mushroom slices) then, when sizzling hot, add the puffballs and cook until golden brown on each side.
Pay close attention to the amount of oil in the pan, the breadcrumbs are going to soak up a ton of oil, and you don't to let the pan get dry, think of it like a shallow deep-fry.
Once the mushrooms are browned, place them in the warm oven on a cookie sheet with a resting rack to prevent the heat from being trapped and steaming the crispy crust until you're done with the rest.
When the mushrooms are all fried, dress the arugula or other greens with the lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, then serve immediately.
I recommend making these for 2-4 people at a time. Trying to fry your whole puffball, if it's large, will require a hood vent or outside cooking.