Puffballs, the other, other white meat. Even if you haven't ever thought about eating one, you've probably seen these around, and likely kicked them as a child, I know I did growing up in the windy plains of Midwestern Minnesota.
They're easy to spot, generally very large, and pretty versatile in the kitchen. They also don't have poisonous look a likes, if you pay attention. If it's solid, lacks gills, and is shaped like an ovoid blob, you probably have yourself a puffball.
Puffballs grow anywhere that their spores have landed, so unlike mushrooms like chanterelles or hen of the woods where they come up exactly in the same spots, puffballs can move around a bit as they're not bonding with a particular tree.
That being said, I do have puffball patches where I see them every year, and once you find a dependable spot, it can give large amounts of mushrooms annually, if you get them at the right time.
I have seen them in fields, in the deep woods, and directly on trails. This is because, unlike many other mushrooms that are parasites, or live in harmony with specific trees, puffballs are just huge spore factories and after they mature, they let their billions of spores fly on the wind.
Most people know the large, field dwelling alien soccer ball, but there's a couple other puffs out there that I like, and to sweeten the deal, I think the others are better than the big white guys. Heres a few I've picked, eaten, and enjoyed.
My measly 3 species on this page doesn't even scratch the surface of unique, individual puffballs you can eat, but, I would say they're probably my favorites (especially the little brown ones).
First things first, when you find a puffball, no matter what size, turn it over and inspect where it attaches to the ground.
Cut away the flesh with dirt attached, then inspect the mushroom for color: it should be absolutely, perfectly white. If it's at all yellow or greenish, it's too old, look for another one or use it as an excuse to kick it like a soccer ball and not feel bad about it.
If you see tunneling which can mean worms, cut away the mushroom flesh to see if you can remove any sign of tunneling, if you can remove any tissue with holes in it, and the rest is still perfectly white and firm, you should have removed the bugs and they won't continue to eat the mushroom.
Chill that puffball!
My grandmother mentioned a while ago that she and grandpa enjoyed the puffballs they'd picked in the back 40, but after a few days they started to smell where they were sitting on the counter.
Puffballs, like meat, are basically pieces of protein material, and if you leave them on the counter, they're going to go bad just like meat, and they will stink, bad. Puffballs, just like any other mushroom, must be refrigerated as soon as possible after picking.
Just like harvesting a wild animal, chilling the mushroom down as fast as possible is one of the first lines of defense to ensure you get a great shelf life out of your puffballs. There's a problem though: puffballs can be very large, and can be impossible to fit in your fridge.
You have a few options here, and it's really up to you. For cooking fresh, you can cut the mushroom into hunks that will fit in the fridge, chill them, then rotate in any others until they're all cooled down.
What I usually do is dehydrate or make some into space saving puree or hummus (recipes at the bottom of this post) —all good examples of what you can do with the excess puffball that can't fit in the fridge in its raw form.
The fresh puffballs will get cooked a few different ways, over the next few days, or some of them might get sliced, cooked, and then frozen to make something like lasagna in the winter (recipe at the bottom of the post).
Look a likes
Puffballs do have some look a likes to know, but, if you're harvesting giant puffballs, as the majority of people are, they're nothing to really worry about, as the look a likes are typically much smaller. They are important to know though. Here's what to look for.
Avoid any round similar mushrooms that
- Are black inside (earthballs/Scleroderma)
- Are small, egg shaped, and/or when cut in half, show undeveloped gills and cap (amanita buttons, potentially fatal)
Scleroderma / Earthball / Pigskin Poison Puffball
Scleroderma mushrooms or common earthballs are a very common mushroom that come up around the same time as puffballs.
It's easy to tell them apart from edible puffballs in that they are mostly very small, around the size of a golf ball, and the inside of them, even when young and firm is dark purple to black, they are never white inside as a true puffball should be at the edible stage.
As you can see below, very young amanita mushrooms may resemble small puffballs, but, just like with common earthballs, it is easy to tell the two apart with a simple understanding of mushroom structure.
Amanita buttons (the pic below is actually one I cooked, but you can see the resemblance) will reveal the shape of an unfurled, tightly coiled mushroom when cut in half, where small puffballs will be pure white fluff when harvested at the proper edible stage.
That being said, I rarely harvest very young puffballs for the table, so confusing these with the more commonly harvested giant puffball is going to be pretty tough, since amanita buttons will be about the size of a golf ball to a tennis ball depending on the species. If you stick to giant puffballs, you're going to be just fine.
Cleaning is relatively easy with these guys, compared to most other wild mushrooms you'll find. They're covered with a leathery protective coating that keeps dirt out of the part of the mushroom you want to eat, which is pretty convenient.
In a restaurant setting, I keep the skin on the mushroom until I'm ready to cook them, since it keeps the mushroom flesh inside moist, while still allowing it to breathe. The skin peels off easily by using your fingers or a decent paring knife.
Can I eat puffball skin?
Yes, you can eat puffball skin, just make sure you brush it clean so you don't get dirt and twigs in your mouth. For the first few years I always peeled puffballs I picked, and I told other people to do it too.
As I've picked them more over the years I changed my mind, slightly. Here's my thoughts: peel the puffballs if they need to be peeled for cleaning, or if you've been keeping them in a cooler and using the skin as a natural shield to preserve freshness.
Otherwise, wipe them dry and cook the whole shebang. The outer crust isn't bad at all, and it's part of the mushroom. The texture is good too, giving a different texture than the inside, which can be sloppy and soggy if not properly cooked.
There's a couple different ways to approach these. most people will batter and fry puffballs, and that's fine, I do too. I don't eat fried food all the time though, and sometimes I need something lighter.
Without a breading, the biggest thing to know, unless you want to put them in soup where they become a bit like mushroom marshmallows, is that puffballs like to be browned, they love it.
Greasing them up and then baking or putting in a large skillet until golden will unlock real flavor in these, flavor you wouldn't expect each slice to have from something that can be so massive.
Cooking Puffballs as a Tofu Substitute
This is a great idea, and to be honest I feel slightly better about eating puffballs like tofu than eating tofu like tofu. Sear them and put in a stir-fry, cut tiny chunks and float in miso soup, grill them and toss in teriyaki-whatever your tofu poison, puffballs will probably do it for you.
Generally when I cook these, I peel, then slice or cut into chunks. Afterword, I saute in oil or fat until they're golden brown, lightly seasoning them with some salt and pepper to draw out their nutty-cheesy flavor.
Puffballs as a GF noodle substitute
Slices of puffball, especially after they've been flattened with a rolling pin or compressed (see my notes on freezing below) make a very interesting, tasty substitute for sheets of pasta.
I wouldn't use them in place of something like spaghetti or fettuccine, but using them in place of sheets of pasta for lasagna or cannelloni can work. The finished dish will be much richer than if you used pasta, so it can be a good way to stretch a small amount of food to feed a hungry crowd.
Classic fried puffballs
Breading and frying slices of puffball is a tradition in rural areas of the Midwest where I live.
Puffballs dry well. To dehydrate them, peel and slice as thin as possible, then place them in a dehydrator (145-150F for roughly 24-48 hours or until cracker dry).
Strangely enough, even after a good run in the dehydrator, the fluffy, poofy composition of these things can be hard to get cracker dry after dehydrating. To get your puffballs cracker dry, I press down firmly on the slices of mushroom with my hand all over to compress them lightly before dehydrating.
A bit of warning: dehydrating puffballs will make your kitchen stink, and pureeing/grinding them up will fill the air with puffball powder, which is sticky stuff.
Open a window or puree dried puffballs into flour in wide, open areas, or bring the blender outside with an extension cord, and consider wearing a mask. I process all my mushrooms in my garage with the door open.
After dehydrating, you can grind the dried mushrooms to a meal, or, you can just break them into chunks and store in a jar, which means you'll have to grind the dried puffballs whenever you use them. Both ways work fine, and dried puffballs will last for a long time after proper dehydrating.
Freezing puffballs can work, but they must be cooked first. Puffballs can be frozen whole, and raw, without loss of color or texture, but freezing causes them to release water, that is a very stinky puffball nectar.
Freezing cooks puffballs in a way. Fresh from the field, puffball flesh will be crumbly and difficult to work with and cut into pieces. If the mushrooms are frozen fresh, they'll release an awful liquid when thawed. For the best finished product, you want to remove this beforehand by cooking and then re-freezing.
To remove the water from cooked puffballs, I like to put slices of them between paper towels and press a rolling pin of them, which helps absorb the water as well as flatten and compress them into a nice, firm-ish puffball pancake.
From there the puffballs can be vacuum sealed and frozen, preferably with a couple layers of absorbent paper towel at the top of the vacuum bag to encourage a tight seal. I try to not let the towel touch the mushrooms too much, as it can disintegrate a bit upon thawing.
After freezing as above, the puffballs can cooked thawed or straight from the freezer, and are an ok substitute for fresh. They're fine for making something like my caramelized puffball puree.
- Puffball Lasagna
- Puffball Hummus
- Puffball Ravioli
- Cheese Stuffed Puffball Croquettes
- Puffball Gravy
- Caramelized Puffball Puree
- Puffball Dumplings
- Puffball Powder
One of my favorite ways of preserving these is a conserve, or type of pickle. The only thing you really need to know is that they have to be browned first, otherwise they will be soggy and...not good. Here's a shabbily shot home video, it may be old, but you'll get the jist.
I might have missed it but how do you store the puffball powder and how long can you keep it?
love using them as pizza crust! slice just under inch thick, brush with olive oil & grill both sides abit till golden & slightly crispy, then top with red or white sauce & whatever toppings you choose & bake 10mins orso ...delicious!
You say no poisonous lookalikes, but that's not true. At least when it comes to very small specimens. Youn amanitas, some of which may be deadly poisonoos, look like puffballs before their volva ruptures and the cap become exposed. Good news is you can tell the difference easily by just cutting them in half: puffball will be solid white and have a tofu texture. Amanitas, you'll see basically what looks like a bisected mushroom with a cap and developing gills. If you cut it in half and aren't sure, toss them, it ain't worth it. Fortunately it's obvious.
He said they had to be solid which rules out the aminitas.
Amanita eggs are solid.
Do you know how to make mushroom jerky? I have tried two brands, one from Jewels of the forest and another one that I do not remember. They are great and delicious. I tried making some but they were terrible. Any words of advise?
I do, but not out of puffballs. What species of mushroom are you working with?
Where in Pennsylvania can I find these and what time of year r they ready to find and eat
You'll find them from summer to fall. I would look in local parks and woods. If you haven't joined your local mycological society I also reccomend doing that.
They are ready now in NW> Pa.
I just picked one today
I know this is a few years later, but I just found this conversation. I just picked (found) my first one growing in the grass on my property yesterday. I'll try frying it or making something with it today. It's about 8 inches in diameter, and it was not there a few days ago.
Enjoy. I really like these mushrooms.
I just found one too in the yard. I never knew you could eat them
thiw found around lae sept early october in indiana
We found a few last year off our paved walking trail near our house here at Sheffield Lake, Ohio.
They were great waited in butter. So when I saw one again near the same spot, I had to have it! Thanks MaRi for your pizza suggestion...it's a big one, but won't last long.
Any idea about the calories in puffball mushrooms? (by weight?)
Compare to guidelines for regular mushrooms. That being said calories are pointless to count IMO, just eat whole, real foods.
Just found two 20 cms diameter giant puffballs. Were sitting next to the road a metre apart.
I've got a couple solid recipes on here for them. Take a look.
We tend to find puffball in horse pastures. I have 2 that need to be harvested.
How much can you sell puffball mushrooms for?
How do you know when they are no longer good when they are in the fridge and kept nice and cold?
Use your senses as you would judge a piece of meat. Touch, smell, taste, and your natural intuition (as well as knowledge of how long it has been in your fridge) are indispensable here. With most mushrooms, you have a few days (boletes) with others (chanterelles) you could have weeks as long as their packaged correctly. If the mushrooms look at all discolored or old, throw them out as it is a good way to poison yourself and loved ones. Even so, don't let this discourage or scare you, it's as easy to tell as if a tomato or potato is no good to eat.
Are they good for soup, and if so do you have a recipe?
Sure, and no.
If there's just a small spot inside the pinball that I starting to yellow, can I just cut that out and still use the pinball?
As long as what you ingest is only pure white, yes. Personally puffballs are so plentiful I don’t usually take them but you’ll be fine, just cut out the yellow.
Great hints and recipes . I've been eating these things a long time , never tried to preserve . Wish i had researched before i cut them up and froze raw . PU. ! My refrigerator is so smelly . So i thought i better just fry them up . When i opened the ziplock baggies the smell was /is unpleasant , such as I'm not going to eat these. Darn . Next time ill cook then freeze . PU.
Throwing the treasure trove out now .
I froze a puffball straightaway after picking a few months ago. Took it out of freezer today and it had shrunk a lot with quite a lot of yellow fluid in the plastic bag I put it in. Did not smell putrid, but there was a strong nutty flavour and so I cut up and fried them. They browned nicely and had a strong taste. I ate quite. A bit. But then grew wary as the taste was really strong. Waiting to see if there are any bad effects.
Have you or anyone else experienced similar?
After frying and freezing, what is the best way to defrost, and reheat before enjoying?
You can defrost in the refrigerator, or on the counter for an hour or so in a pinch. To reheat, use a wet method: pasta sauce, or some other way to hold in moisture, like breading and frying.
MELISSA ANN JARECKI
Yet in this recipe to prepare them you say to freeze them whole and raw then saw them out slice roll them out with the rolling pin and then freeze again raw. Is this not correct? Thanks for all your great recipes!
An old comment before I had experimented with freezing them from raw, for whatever reason, freezing from raw works with puffballs, but not with many others. Hericiums are ruined by the process and change color, for example.
i recently found large puffballs in northwest minnesota ,but have never harvested them before.I have found morell many times ,but am causious about these. They are bleach white basketball size that grew after the recent snow in MW MN . Who can tell me they are what I think they are.
If you can't suss them out online, or with a guide, post your pictures in an ID group on Facebook. Puffballs are very easy to identify.
Found some today in Black Hills SD, near Wind Cave.
WOW!!! I had no idea I’d come across any.
Thank you fir great info, I learned a lot!
Have not seen them in Colorado yet, but this is the first year I actually started paying attention fion to edible and médicinal mushrooms.
Hi , I found a giant puffball and by everything I read, it was in good shape - pure white with tofu like texture. So I made into soup which was a bit of an endeavour as it’s texture became stringy. I puréed it and continued with the soup, including adding some wine in which my recipe called for. Then I stated to come across some references to toxins and alcohol. Before I share my creation, I would like to know more about this combination as it relates to the giant puffball. Can you help?
Toxins like that aren't found in puffballs. You're good.
So I cooked mine up in a risotto, then froze some in a box (sealed) as soon as it cooled, for 2 weeks. Got it out, it tastes OK although I'm eating it cold, bit wary off reheating rice, but would like to double check it should be OK?
There are some hard gristly bits that appear to be mushroom.. Which is weird because I ate a portion before freezing and there were no hard bits then..
Will a knife bruise the flesh of a giant puff ballI? I cut three a neighbor gave me. the first two I wouldn't eat but the third seems like it might be ok. however it seems like the knife bruised it when cutting through it. when I pull the flesh apart it looks like it's all white. does the flesh bruise easily? I just don't want to eat something that could harm me.
It could slightly bruise them. Only eat pearl white puffballs and you’ll be fine. A very safe mushroom.
Is a puffball mushroom that grows under pine tree poisonous?
No, their growth under pine trees is coincidence as they're saprobes.
I found a nice patch of little brown puffballs on a tree today! I stir-fried them whole and they tasted nice. Then I spotted a couple of white mushrooms on our lawn and first thought, 'oh, more puffballs' but they turned out to be destroying angels (which I had never heard of). Anyway, it's fascinating how one mushroom is tasty and good for you and another so poisonous and deadly, and they both look so innocent.
Hi Laure, yes, some mushrooms are dangerous, and some are tasty. As far as puffballs and destroying angels though, these are very different mushrooms, but to the untrained eye, they could both look like "mushrooms" I suppose.
Hi, not sure if you still see these comments, but I have a question. I'm dehydrating puffballs now and I've noticed some of the pieces are yellowing a bit in the process. They were perfectly white before I put them in. I just want to make sure they are still safe to eat. Please let me know. Thanks, Jen
They shouldn't be yellowing. That being said, as long as you can get them cracker dry, and you heat them in boiling water, gravy, etc, they would never hurt you. Make sure to test a small amount to make sure the flavor isn't too strong since yellowing/older puffballs can taint good tasting powder.
Thank you for the advice. I will do so. I powdered the rest and saved the ones that yellowed while drying in a separate bag. I'll powder them separately and give it a taste first.
I picked a few last week and fried them up.. nibbled in two bites which caused my throat and mouth to immediately itch. Took Benadryl & Claritin on the advice of my urgent care doctor— throat felt uncomfortably swollen for over 5 hours before I felt “normal.” I could always breath, but it was pretty scary!
That's good to know. Yes many people can have allergies to specific species of mushrooms.
I use to eat them all the time when I was a kid. We would clean and slice them up dip in egg and flour and fry in oil in skillet. YUM
Yeah they can be really good. Hard to do better than the classic fried prep.
I didn't realize you could eat these! I have a crop of these every year right my yard, and could have been feasting everything September for the last 4 years had I known lol
I'm not sure about this, but I'd suggest leaving some to go brown and "puff" their spores out so you'll have your ongoing supply! Lucky you. 🙂 Enjoy
I thank you for the preparation tips. I do have some editorial comments.
Not sure if you are still responding to this thread but I was wondering if you have thoughts on pear shaped puffballs? Lycoperdon pyiforme? I have find them every fall but have not tried eating them but I'm curious. Thanks for any reply!
Kevin. M. Cox
I'm in UK I I can't find a puffball anywhere and iv been searching for years. I'm 68 and first had one when I was 18 after a friend found one. Help advise anyone
Sometimes I drive around and hunt them by car, in open fields, etc.