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Giant Puffballs (Calvatia Gigantea)

Written by Dyson Forbes


Posted on September 25 2020

Calvatia gigantea - puffball

Giant Puffball - Calvatia gigantea

This is truly one of the most impressive mushrooms to come across while out wandering the fields. And there are no other mushrooms that it can be confused with. Under normal conditions a puffball will grow to about 8 to 12 inches in diameter, but some have been found almost 4 feet across. The largest one that I have picked that was still sound enough to eat weighed 7 1/2 lbs and would not fit into my largest cooler. Not only are these mushrooms big, but in a good year you can stumble across groups of 6 to 10 of them growing together. Giant puffballs are white, spherical, unless growing up through dense brush where they can become distorted, with a stout stem right at the ground level. There are no above ground stems or gills.

They are often found in fields, pastures, meadows, old orchards and other somewhat open areas, however sometimes I find them just inside a woodlot or forested area. Puffballs are a saprobic mushroom, meaning they require decomposing nutrients in the soil and can often be found in fairy rings that spread out year after year as the fungus consumes the nutrients in the soil. If you see a couple puffballs in a line, follow along that line and there is a good chance you will find more nearby. 

Past prime puffball

As a teenager on the farm, puffballs that had past their prime were considered the weapon of choice for throwing at your opponent. When they connected with their target they would splatter if wet inside or explode with a big puff of dried brown powder. When harvesting puffballs to consume, tap the outside of the mushroom to see if is still sound. If the sound is flat it may be too far gone. In that case gently press your fingers into the flesh and remove. If the indentation of your fingers is still visible it may be passed using. The third method of testing is to cut it in half. If it is pure white right through, you have a meal coming up. If it has started to turn yellow, it’s too late to use. Make sure to return it to an area where it may produce new puffballs next year.

Calvatia gigantea - puffballs

 If you found your over ripe puffball on a flat or slightly south facing field, try checking out a more shaded area or on a north sloping field, or on the north side a forested area. They may mature more slowly in these areas. Puffballs will come up, depending on how far north you live, from July until the beginning of November. I usually find the most from mid-August to mid October. They will often come up a few days after a good rainfall, following a dry spell. Sometimes they start to grow, then stop because it doesn’t have enough water. They will then wait for more rain or deteriorate.

Puffball basket

To harvest, you will need a big basket or large bag. Don’t even think of using plastic bags on mushrooms. Reach down and gently roll the puffball into your hands and pull if necessary. 

Prime puffball - Calvatia gigantea

In the kitchen you should gently brush off any dirt or use a soft damp cloth. If that doesn’t work, peel it. A sound puffball can last up to a week in the fridge. Do not, under any circumstances try to dry slices of puffball in your home. The smell will overwhelm you and may take days to dissipate.

Cooked puffball

I have often been surprised that more chefs don’t use puffballs. There seems to be an indifference that is the opposite of customers at farmers markets where people line up to buy them and are constantly asking when will they be in.

Check out these Puffball recipes here



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