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Foraging for Puffball Mushrooms

Puffball mushrooms are one of the few I can harvest with complete confidence. That makes it a great mushroom for beginners. Here’s a quick look at foraging for Puffball mushrooms.

What is a Puffball Mushroom?

Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) is sometimes called the Giant Puffball. The first time I saw one growing in our field, I thought the previous homeowners had left a volleyball sitting out in the pasture.

They can be anywhere from around eight inches up to several feet.

The mushroom itself is a creamy white and is typically sort of an oval brain-like shape.

When puffballs get completely mature, they turn brown, looking almost like a big deflated, leathery football. Or the shell of an old smoke bomb if you’ve seen one of those. When I find old ones I stomp around on them a little to help disperse spores, hoping to increase the harvest for the next year.

overgrown puffball mushroom
A puffball past its prime.

Foraging for Puffball Mushrooms- Where to find them?

They typically grow in wooded or grassy areas and they are fairly common in the upper Midwest. The puffballs on our farm grow along a very tiny crick that runs along our property, and up into the field that is next to it.

Last year the puffballs were huge and ready to harvest one week before my daughter was born, so I paid close attention this year as her birthday approached. Just about right on schedule, they started popping up around the third week of September. We are up in northern Minnesota so if you are more southern they could show up a little later for you.

How can I tell if it is a Puffball?

Puffballs are pretty unmistakable, especially as they get older. When they are smaller though other mushrooms can look like them.

inside a puffball mushroom

A puffball should look clean and white/creamy white. When you slice into the mushroom, it should be white throughout. If you see any other colors in there, or if you can see sort of the outline of a shape inside, then it is probably not a puffball. As I said, this is only when they are small, a few inches, that you’d need to be concerned it could be another mushroom that is about to  “hatch” into a different form. Otherwise once they are big (8 inches plus) you can be pretty sure it is a puffball. Always worth it though to slice ‘em open and take a look to be sure.

How and When to Harvest

Harvesting puffballs is incredibly easy. They are attached to the ground with a thin sort of stem that will easily break when you roll or pull the mushroom. You don’t even need a knife.

Puffballs should be fairly smooth all across the top when you harvest them. A little breakage is fine, but much more than what you see in my photos below and your mushroom is probably too far gone. Not to worry. It’ll spore out and make more puffballs for you to harvest next year.

It’s not unusual for a puffball to have a bit of bug or worm action right down at the ground. I know it’s gross, but just slice away that portion and the rest of the mushroom is typically still good. While you are out foraging for puffball mushrooms, keep an eye out for other mushrooms that might be nearby!

How to Clean a Puffball Mushroom

The first thing you’ll want to do is cut away and buggy bits at the bottom of the mushroom. Then I will brush of any excess dirt that I can.

The other layer of skin around the puffball is tough and not great for eating. Just peel that off with a knife or your fingers.

What can I do with a Puffball Mushroom?

They are a pretty mild mushroom so you can use them anywhere you would use a button mushroom. Personally I like to sautee them in butter, or turn them into a type of mushroom schnitzel.

They can be frozen, but only if you cook them first. Last year I fried up a giant batch of mushroom schnitzel, then layered the pieces in between wax paper in a gallon bag and froze them. Almost a year later I pulled them out, fried them again on a hot pan, and they were just as good as when I made and ate them fresh.

Puffball Schnitzel

  • 1 Puffball mushroom sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • oil for frying
  • 1 lemon sliced into wedges, optional.

Mix the breadcrumbs with parmesan cheese, herbs, salt, and pepper in a 8×8 or larger pan. Warm your oil of choice in a large skillet. You want the whole pan well coated. Dip the puffball slices in the egg wash on both sides, then press it gently into the breadcrumb mixture on both sides to coat.

Fry it in your pan on medium for a few minutes on each side until brown and crispy. You can top with a little squeezed lemon juice, dip it in ranch, or just eat it as is.

Always  Be Cautious with Foraged Mushrooms

mushrooms of the midwest rough and tumble farmhouse

Mushrooms and foraging can be perfectly safe. As I said, puffballs are the one wild mushroom I don’t have any worry about harvesting. Still, it is a good idea when eating any foraged mushrooms to first cook up just a small amount and eat it, then wait a bit to see if you have any kind of reaction.

It’s important to have a good mushroom guide, and I heartily recommend Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest. It has great pictures, easy sorting, paired with simple and direct descriptions about many types of mushrooms.

Also, check with your local arboretums, master naturalist programs, community education, etc. for mushrooming classes. For a small fee you can often head out with an experienced forager to learn about identification and mushroom handling.

But don’t be discouraged! Mushrooming is a fun and safe activity for folks to try out. Good luck out there foraging for puffball mushrooms!

Want more mushrooms? Check out my Shiitake post!

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