My latest edition on foraging and cooking wild mushrooms features a relatively new mushroom for me: the Puffball. I grew up hunting morels but living in urban environments for the last 30+ years, I haven’t really been able to pursue some of my more outdoor and rustic endeavors. I purchased a home in Michigan several years ago and have finally been able to start diverting some of my efforts from construction and clearing land towards more of what I call “Lost Arts,” foraging mushrooms being one of them.
You may be nervous about the whole idea of foraging for mushrooms and being able to identify poisonous from non-poisonous mushrooms. I am still learning as well and am currently sticking to the most easily recognizable varieties. I spend a good amount of time researching online, so I suggest you do the same. Some of my favorite resources are David Fischer's American Mushrooms and Mushroom Collecting.
There are many varieties of Puffballs; the ones in my yard are the pear-shaped mushrooms. These are quite small especially considering their counterpart the Giant Puffball, which can weigh pounds each! These mushrooms grow all over, the ones I found were simply in my lawn, but I have seen them growing on logs as well. They are edible when young and fresh and inedible once they dry out. It won’t be hard to tell the difference because when they are fresh they are incredible tender with a very creamy flesh and when they are old, the interior turns to dust. I think that may be where they get their name because when you touch an old one, it looks like a puff of smoke is coming out of the mushroom!
Last year, I dried some (you can use the same technique I used with these morel mushrooms) and used those for mushroom stock and risotto. I like to grind the dried mushrooms in my spice rubs because they are great on the grill or on a roasted chicken or beef tenderloin. I did not harvest all the mushrooms I had. I will likely do that next week and dry those. The ones I picked today, I turned into a very simple mushroom soup. Here's how I found them and then cut them.
4 Tablespoons butter
1 leek, cut in half moon slices and cleaned (here's a video on how to do that)
2 pounds, puffball mushroom cleaned and sliced (you can substitute domestic button mushrooms)
2 quarts chicken stock
3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons tarragon, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a 6 to 8 quart stock pot over moderate heat. Add butter and leeks and sauté until leeks are tender. Add mushrooms and cook until lightly browned. Add chicken stock and vinegar, then simmer for 30 minutes. Add tarragon and season with salt and pepper.
If you want to see how I cook maitake or Hen of the Woods mushrooms and get The Chopping Block's popular Mushroom and Thyme Cheesecake recipe, be sure to check out my blog and let me know in the comments section how you use these types of mushrooms. This mushroom cheesecake recipe is a classic since we've been making it for over 20 years, and it's perfect for a holiday appetizer!