To me, the word 'forage' usually conjures up images of forests, walking sticks and wicker baskets. It also implies searching at great length and possibly coming up empty-handed. There are no guarantees in foraging. So, when I decided to 'forage' for wild mushrooms around the property I thought it would have involved more work. Lucky for me I could see the treasures - giant puff-balls - from the comfort of my kitchen. Not much of a mushroom foraging expedition, if you ask me.
The giant puff-ball is quite the spectacle, as far as mushrooms go. The fruit body can range from 5-80 cm across, although ones of much larger proportions have been recorded.
You should only pick specimens when they are young and white in colour. Tap the top of the mushroom and listen for a hollow sound. You can check its age by cutting through; the knife should pass through crisply, without tearing the flesh. If the outer wall breaks away to expose spore mass it will turn yellow in colour. Do not eat puff-balls that are in this stage.
Giant puff-balls grow in pastures and woodlands from early summer through to late autumn, although if the weather is very dry they will not grow at all. If you're lucky enough to find a giant puff-ball chances are there will be many others nearby. They grow in the same place year after year, so be sure to keep track of where you find the fruit.
Since there is no satisfactory way to store puff-balls it is recommended that you consume them within 3 days. They can be stored in the fridge, provided they are wrapped in plastic wrap. Likewise, they can be cooked into dishes and frozen for later consumption.
Before eating, wipe the mushroom clean with a damp cloth and slice into pieces. Puff-balls work extremely well in all mushroom dishes, particularly soups and stews. You can also fry them up with eggs and bacon or dip them in beaten eggs and breadcrumbs and lightly fry in bacon fat.
If you are uncertain about a species of mushroom DO NOT EAT IT. Quite often edible wild mushrooms have a poisonous sister mushroom that can cause either extreme discomfort or death. Do careful research and ask an expert if you're uncertain. It should be noted that the giant puff-ball does not have a poisonous twin sister and is easily identifiable.