The white volleyball look-a-like plant, known as “puffball” has been making it’s move from the earthy outside to the warm kitchens of Six Nations homes for generations — as far as most grandparents will say.
If you’ve never eaten them, the first instinct you might have once you find one is to kick it. But hold your horses because, this hard-to-find fungus is among several wild delicacies similar to the likes of corn smut, and morelles.
To top it off — not only has a scientific study proven that eating puffballs can inhibit tumour growth, rather than just eating puffballs, indigenous people have used them as a coagulant to stop wounds from bleeding and to prevent infection.
The common misconception many hold is that ‘all mushrooms should be considered poisonous,’ when they venture outside, but this elusive and edible fungus is known for it’s mushroomy and wild flavour. This description might make you want to venture out to find one, and it is the perfect time to do so as puffball season ranges from late summer to early fall.
Majority of puffballs found in the forests of North America come from the calvatia family, which means they produce their fruiting body in a mere week’s time. This means you can spot a puny puffball on a Monday and by the end of the week come back to find it the size of a soccer ball and ready for picking.
Finding this mushroom is easy — check at the edges of meadows, drainage ditches, under brush and under trees. Sometimes they grow in the simplest of places. But, as they are from the calvatia family, this mushroom grows what are called ‘basidiospores’ which are grown within the fruiting body. This means that the old wives’ tale of never finding a puffball in the ‘same place twice’ rings true, as if you pick the puffball to eat, these spores do not get released to grow more; quite disappointing, that’s why finding one makes it so much more rewarding.
Puffballs tend to be white or tan in colour, with small pointed spines that rub off when touched. Please pick with caution though, as the golf ball sized stinkhorn and earthball can be mistaken for the delicious puffball and are incredibly poisonous. A rule of thumb for checking the puffball is to slice it down the middle first. If the inside is pure white and without any internal structures, luck is on your side and you have indeed found a puffball.
After you’ve cut the mushroom down the middle, make sure the inside is pure white – if so, it is ready to prepare. If the puffball you picked is not the edible uniform white, but instead a yellow colour, beware; the flavour will be very bitter and can ruin paired dishes.
The homemade style of eating this mushroom delicacy is usually by peeling, slicing, battering then frying slices of the mushroom to later be decorated with salt or maple syrup. A generation-to-generation batter recipe is: flour, baking powder, salt and milk to coat slices of the puffball to be fried in a preferably cast-iron pan coated with tenderflake.