Easy to Identify Mushroom in NYC: Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea)

Puffballs of all sizes grow in the forest, alongside roads, in the middle of a green grassy lawn, they can really grow anywhere! You can stir fry them, cook them in the oven and my absolute favorite, is pretending they are pancakes!

It’s prime mushroom picking season but it’s quickly cooling down. You might be seeing mushrooms all around you, even in city parks and on the side of highways! There’s still some time to go out and forage before winter chases us indoors for Netflix, hot chocolate and hibernation. However, most mushrooms take a lot of experience to identify which can be scary and discouraging.

It is also extremely dangerous to eat anything that you’re not certain about. Although there are many YouTube videos and Facebook groups are not always a reliable way to be sure that you will be safe. Even after you read this article, go talk to experienced mushroom pickers, join a mycological society and always be overly careful.

Two other warnings:

  1. It is not legal to pick mushrooms everywhere. Ask a police officer, park ranger or at the info center where you can pick them. If you go anywhere else, you risk getting a hefty fine. In NYC it can be up to $250!
  2. Wild mushrooms are not like the ones you buy at the store. Some people might experience an allergy to a specific type even though they are not allergic to others. Some edible mushrooms have skins that certain people might react to with a stomach ache. Although I am lucky to be allergy free and tolerate everything I’ve tried so far, I’m aware that I might eat a perfectly good edible mushroom that might make me feel sick.

That being said, mushrooms are a great way eat sustainably, healthily and package-free. They are also vegan but can be cooked with whatever ingredients you prefer. Some people make ice cream and cheese cake out of mushrooms…

Let’s get down to business, there are mushrooms that are growing everywhere around New York right now and they happen to taste delicious! The giant puffball (tiny ones are good too) is really easy to identify, grows to be huge so it’s satisfying to find and it’s a great way to begin your mushroom picking lifestyle.

Giant puffball (Calvatia gigantic):

Puffballs come in round shapes and in various sizes. They don’t have any gills, or stems, they grow right out of the ground. The regular kind is small, round, white/grayish/yellowish with tiny bumps and they get dark and dry when they are ready to release their spores. When they are dry, you can stomp on them and they will puff out dark-colored spores, which is why they are called puffballs.

Giant puffballs don’t taste any better than small ones, arguably they taste worse. But one big puffball can feed a family of three for a day. They can grow to be larger than your head! In their prime they are pure white on the outside and inside.

If they are any there color, or have any markings, be cautious.

Unlike the hen-of-the-woods that I wrote about earlier this week, giant puffballs do have a very poisonous lookalike, but it’s extremely easy to differentiate them! Once you pick a puffball, cut it down the middle from top to bottom, an edible puffball will have firm purely white firm flesh without any markings. It should look like sliced mozzarella!

If the mushroom is off-white, it’s an edible kind that’s past it’s prime. Don’t eat it! There are several stages of a puffball going bad. First, the inside will get yellower but will remain firm. Then it’ll get wetter and darker, at this point the outside might be getting yellower too. Finally, it dries up and releases dark gray/black spores.

Even when a puffball is yellow, it’s technically not poisonous. The only type of puffball that is poisonous, is one with black lines that look like intricate designs. These will be on the outside and on the inside. These puffballs are very poisonous and should NOT be consumed.

Puffballs of all sizes grow in the forest, alongside roads, in the middle of a green grassy lawn, they can really grow anywhere! Just make sure to cut every single mushroom in half, and throw any puffball that isn’t pure white on the inside. The rule of thumb with mushrooms is, if there is any doubts, leave it behind.

If you thought that the hen-of-the-woods had many recipes, just wait until you bring home a haul of puffballs. You can stir fry them, cook them in the oven and my absolute favorite, is pretending they are pancakes!

All you need to do is cut 3/4 inch slices, fry them in the oven or on the pan with some coconut oil and cinnamon and serve with maple syrup. If you cook them long enough you can barely taste the difference – they are soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. Delicious. Here are some other recipes.

Just a quick reminder, some people don’t react well to the skin of puffball mushrooms (or any mushroom skins). Some mushrooms have tough skin that’s supposed to protect the mushroom from being eaten, this skin can be hard to digest and some people are more sensitive than others.

It’s very similar to the skin on certain nuts, if you’ve ever pooped out an intact almond, you know what I’m talking about. Personally, I eat the skin but please be aware that you might have a reaction to it! You can always start by eating a small piece with the skin on, wait a few hours and see how you feel. It can be scary to feel sick after eating a wild mushroom and not know why.

Do you have any stories to share about puffballs? What’s your record find (size or amount)? What’s your favorite recipe? Share your puffball stories with us in the comments below!

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New York, NY, USA

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