Main Ingredient - Puffballs
Christin Anderson shared her love and knowledge of mycology with an eager group of mushroom enthusiasts through a couple of Folkskills classes in Anchorage this past week. I joined the classes in an effort to get more comfortable hunting mushrooms myself. Both days yielded a bounty of mushrooms, including puffballs (genus Calvatia), which are an easy way to enter the foraging game.
We found two types of common puffballs during the hunts that Christin led--both of which were edible and delicious!
Puffballs generally don’t have a distinct stem, and sit on the ground in yards, meadows, or open grassy areas like slightly lumpy white, off white or greyish brown golf balls. The temptation to kick them is strong! Puffballs will always be found on the ground, never growing on trees or logs. Late summer/early fall is prime time to harvest edible puffballs.
Although experienced mushroom hunters might say that it’s pretty much impossible to confuse a puffball with any other Alaska mushroom out there, one should always proceed with caution. If you find what you think is a puffball, the first thing you should do is slice it open. If you find firm, uniform, white flesh inside (like a marshmallow), then you have an edible puffball. If you see any kind of outline of a mushroom shape, or evidence of gills, then you may have found a young Amanita--which you should not eat. If you have any doubts, use the mushroom for a game of catch and find something else for dinner.
If the puffball is brown, yellow, green or any color other than white on the inside you’ll also want to discard it.
Eat your puffballs as soon after harvesting as you can to preserve quality. Although people say puffballs are bland, the ones I picked were quite flavorful! I sliced and simply sauteed a batch in butter (with a little garlic) which we piled on toast for a quick appetizer. They’d be great in pasta dishes, on pizza, or in a soup or sauce. Brown a batch in butter with some sweet Alaska onions, deglaze the pan with a splash of beef broth and smother a steak. Puffballs perform best cooked fresh, though some people do slice and dry them.