The Maine forest is filled with some truly spectacular mushrooms, including the giant puffball.
Popping out of the ground in late summer and fall, this impressive mushroom is ball-shaped and can grow to be larger than a watermelon. Just ask Lauren Balogh of Presque Isle.
New to mushroom foraging, Balogh came across several of these giant puffballs Sept. 20, and she could not believe her eyes.
“I thought it was a volleyball or soccer ball at first,” Balogh said, “and then I drove up to them, and sure enough, they were mushrooms. There were about eight of them that size. I couldn’t believe it.”
The mushrooms were growing at the edge of a field near Balogh’s parents’ house, which is in the countryside of Presque Isle.
“I’ve been searching for mushrooms in the woods in my area, and I’d found some small puffballs, but never a giant one,” Balogh said.
Many Maine residents are familiar with the smaller species of puffball mushrooms, which are a common sight on lawns throughout the state. It’s a well-known edible.
Late in life, these mushrooms soften and, if squished, will emit a puff of dark spores that delight children. Prior to that lifestage, when the mushroom is hard and white throughout, it’s good to harvest and eat.
However, there are poisonous mushrooms that look similar, including the pigskin poison puffball, which is dark throughout and has a thick outer skin. That’s why it’s always important to properly identify mushrooms before eating them by using a mushroom field guide. It’s also helpful to practice IDing mushrooms with experienced foragers.
Giant puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) are not nearly as common as small puffballs, but they are similarly edible, according to according to a fact sheet on the species by the Intermountain Herbarium at Utah State University. Found throughout central and eastern United States and Canada, these mushrooms should be eaten only when their flesh is firm and white throughout.
Knowing they were edible, Balogh harvested a few of the giant puffballs she found by simply plucking them from the ground. She then took a photo of them, along with a soccer ball for size comparison, and posted it on the popular Facebook group, Maine Mushrooms, which has more than 5,000 members.
“Does anyone have any other ways to prep and store them? I really don’t know what to do with them all!” Balogh wrote to the group.
She received several replies, including a suggestion to dry the mushrooms and grind them into a mushroom powder that can be used in cooking a variety of dishes.
The Intermountain Herbarium states that the most popular way to eat them is to coat them in batter and fry them. However, beware that if you don’t dry or freeze the mushrooms, they won’t keep for long.
The blog Kitchen Frau states that these types of mushrooms stay good for about five to six days in the refrigerator. The post describes cubing and sauteeing the puffball mushrooms with butter and salt until the moisture is cooked out and the cubes start to brown. The cube are then stored in plastic bags and frozen for later use in stews, casseroles, risottos, stir-fries and more.
“I heard it will take on any flavor you cook with it,” Balogh said. “My friend who is a mushroom forager and a pretty experience one, he suggested to make a pizza crust from it or put it on top of a pizza as a topping — or put it in a soup. It’s just one of those very versatile mushrooms.”
One thing’s for certain, she won’t run out of mushrooms to eat anytime soon.