Spotlight on Puffball Mushrooms
Photo by Larry Reis
Puffball mushrooms are a delight with a distinctive eye-catching look. Known for their spherical shape and lack of gills, these mushrooms are characterized by their spongy texture and white exterior. While many mushroom species are inedible or even poisonous, puffball mushrooms are generally safe to eat if cleaned and cooked thoroughly. Iowa has a handful of puffball species with different shapes, sizes, and growth habits. The giant puffball can be found during the late summer and fall months, depending on the weather and environmental conditions.
Once they have reached maturity, they'll release as many as seven trillion spores which are carried by the wind to new areas. They'll grow everywhere their spores land, allowing them to be spotted in fields, meadows, or wooded terrain. The best time to pick puffballs is when they are freshly ripened as older mushrooms can become rough and bitter.
When harvesting, it is best to cut at the root as this helps them to regrow the following season. A mature puffball can range from a few to twenty inches in diameter. Although puffballs are generally safe, a few things should be inspected before opening a recipe book. The inside of the puffballs should be pure white, without any green or yellow discoloration, as this indicates the mushroom has passed its edible stage. After a routine cleaning and inspection for any insects or debris, the puffball is ready to show off what makes this unique mushroom so beloved.
With so many recipes, there is no shortage of dishes to try like fried puffballs or puffball mushroom hummus. An easy-to-make fan favorite from Half-Scratched is puffball mushroom bruschetta. The recipe requires one puffball mushroom sliced into 1/4-inch-thick slices, one loaf of crusty bread, two minced cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and fresh basil leaves for garnish. To prepare, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the loaf of bread into 1/2-inch-thick slices and place them on a baking sheet. Brush each serving with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake the bread for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned and crispy. While the bread is baking, heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and the minced garlic to the pan. Cook the garlic for 30 seconds, then add the sliced puffball mushrooms to the pan. Cook on medium to high heat for 5-7 minutes or until they are lightly browned. Once the bread is finished baking, top each slice with a few cooked puffball mushrooms.
Puffball mushrooms are a deliciously versatile ingredient that can add a unique flavor and texture to many dishes. They are easy to prepare and can be cooked in a variety of ways. So, next time you're looking to switch up your cooking, consider giving puffball mushrooms a try!