August is a lovely month for foraging. It’s fruit and nut time, with blackberries and hazelnuts ripening in the hedgerows. Hazelnuts are ripe when the leaf surrounding them is starting to turn yellowish, but move fast, as it will always be a case of you versus the squirrels in the race to the nut.
The puffball is a white globe that can grow as big as your head. This sounds like something from a Roald Dahl book. In fact, the puffball has a tasty, earthy flavour and an unusual texture that when cooked is like a mix between a savoury marshmallow and firm tofu. Due to its size, it can actually be used as a football if you don’t fancy eating it (or if it is a bit old to eat – the young ones are best).
This magnificent and entertaining fungus is also the safest way to introduce some wild mushroom into your diet because it is usually easy to identify. Do make sure it is still pure white throughout. As they age, they become yellow and taste bitter.
The puffball is very versatile and can be used like any mushroom; stir-fried, cooked in garlic butter, in soups, baked or grilled. The flesh of the Giant Puffballs has been compared to cheese or tofu. My favourite way is as a very healthy pizza base, making this a low-carb, wheat-free way to enjoy pizza.
The giant puffball is usually an easy mushroom to identify but double-check that:
• cut from bottom to top, it is pure white throughout;
• it is bigger than a grapefruit; (they’re typically up to 70 cm in diamater)
• you have looked at pictures of common earthball mushrooms and young fly agaric (when they first grow, they form an egg-sized ‘puff’) and ruled
them out. These poisonous fungi look similar to the puffball when young, but if your puffball meets the top two criteria, then you can be quite confident it is a genuine puffball.
Check your mushrooms online: www.wildfooduk.com has useful images and descriptions to help you. Geoff Dann’s book Edible Mushrooms is full of tips on how to correctly and safely identify British mushrooms species.
An excerpt from both Kate Blincoe’s No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting
and Geoff Dann’s Edible Mushrooms