Around the first week of October the puffballs started showing up, which is why I posted the Puffball Parmesan recipe a few days ago. There are big ones and small ones. The large ones make great puffball parmesan, but don’t overlook the small ones.
This is the large one, a Clavatia species – probably Clavatia cyathifomis. You will usually find these in fields or roadsides in the Valley. As they grow, they tend to have a “base” of sterile tissue that looks like a pedestal. They begin with a whitish skin which will eventually starting turning brownish and develop a cracking appearance.This doesn’t mean that it is too mature however. If it’s very firm, then pick it and check the insides.
Puffballs mature from the base upward. So cut one in half, top to bottom. If the inside is pure white, the texture and color of angel food cake, then it is OK. Slice and trim these if you so desire. If you see yellowish or brownish color developing, then discard. I ALWAYS err on the side of caution. You will notice the one to the left has a slight brownish streak beginning from the base.
If you’re in the woods rather than the fields, look for these little fellows. Lycoperdon pyriforme. They grow in clusters on decaying hardwood logs and occur in large numbers. Last week I picked hundreds off one log, and that added up to a gallon or more. I ALWAYS cut the bottom off to see if the inside is white. When cooking, saute, I slice each one cross wise to get disks of puffbal which cook evenly. Eat the skin and all.
Beware of pigskin puffballs, Scleroderma (poisonous), which have a very thick skin and should not have a white interior. Tom Volk has a good discussion with pictures http://botit.botany.wisc.edu/toms_fungi/aug98.html. You can also see the Giant Puffballs on his site. I have found a few here in the valley from time to time. No pedestal, round, thin white skin, and look like soccer balls from a distance.
Puffballs are easy to learn and a nice edible around the end of September and first part of October. Just remember, ALWAYS cut them open and examine prior to eating.