Dad’s Puffballs

As many of you know, I was in Michigan last week, visiting Zia and my family. Luckily, my visit was timed perfectly for the annual arrival of puffballs. Pictured above, a puffball is a type of edible fungus with a mild, mushroom-like flavor. My Dad, some 25 years ago, found one growing behind Zia’s garage and we’ve enjoyed them ever since. Then again, my family has always had some sort of relationship with mushrooms. Both Mom & Zia told tales of going mushroom picking with Grandma when they were very young in as-yet undeveloped fields in Detroit. Prior to my being born, Mom & Dad lived in a house in which they grew mushrooms in a basement room that had a dirt floor. So, when Dad found a puffball and declared it edible, my family replied, “When do we eat?”

Max "picked" the smaller one about 1 week too soon. We suspect the larger was "trimmed" by a lawn mower when it was but a few days old.

Each year, usually in the first weeks of October, 1 to 3 egg-sized fungi appear in the lawn by Zia’s garage. In less than 2 weeks, these “eggs” will grow to be football-sized — and therein lies the quandary: when to pick them. Grab them too soon and you may be cheating yourself out of a few days’ growth. Picked too late and you’ll have no choice but to throw it away, hopefully back where you found it so its spores will produce next year’s crop. So, once you’ve decided it’s harvest time, what’s next? That’s easy enough. Pick them and, just before cooking, trim away the outer peel to reveal a flesh that’s relatively firm and pure white, like that of a white button mushroom cap — on steroids! If it is even the palest shade of green, yellow, or brown, discard the puffball because it has “turned.” Your best bet is to cook them as soon after harvesting as possible.

As mentioned earlier, puffballs have a very mild, mushroom-like taste and this limits the ways they can be cooked. One year, after a crop that yielded 3 huge puffballs, I brought one home and used part of it in a tomato sauce. Big mistake. Being so mild tasting, one could easily have mistaken the puffball cubes for tofu — not exactly the result I had in mind. Since then, I’ve restricted my use of them to 4 recipes. To begin with, if I cannot cook it within 2 days of picking, I’ll chop the puffball into cubes and lightly sauté them in butter. I place the partially cooked cubes on sheet pans and into my freezer. When fully frozen, I place the cubes in bags to be stored for later use in omelets.

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Breadcrumbs (l), Flour (r)

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When he brought the first one home, Dad suggested that Mom cut it into cubes before breading and frying them. So, she cubed it, floured the cubes, dipped them into an egg wash, and then coated them with seasoned bread crumbs before deep frying. Pictured above, are cubes prepared in this way using Panko bread crumbs. Oddly enough, as Zia mentioned, they’ll remind you of toasted marshmallows, albeit a little mushroom-y. Also pictured are puffball cubes prepared with a 2nd coating of seasoned flour rather than bread crumbs. Although good, I much prefer the Panko-coated. By the way, the dipping sauce pictured is homemade ketchup that was inspired by Tanya’s Up The Mountain Spicy Tomato Ketchup over at her Chica Andaluza blog. Her sauce is fantastic and better, by far, than any ketchup that I’ve ever tasted.

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Parmesan Coated

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The 4th and final preparation is a method I found at the Mycological Society of San Francisco website. If you’ve a mushroom-related question, this is a good place to start looking for an answer. Their recipe, Parmesan Puffballs, involves coating slices of puffball with grated parmesan cheese instead of breadcrumbs or flour. Fried in a mixture of butter and olive oil, these are a tasty alternative to the other methods. Truth be told, however, the parmesan cheese is the real star of this dish; the puffball being overwhelmed by the flavor of fried cheese. Although not quite the dish one might expect, any excuse to eat fried cheese is all right in my book.

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Notes

In the years since Dad brought home that first puffball, my family has enjoyed them many times. Never once has anyone experienced any discomfort or problem after eating them. Still, as is the case with any mushroom or fungus, if in doubt, do not eat.

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Just One Thing More

So, you think you had a rough night?

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No, those aren’t puffballs. The night before we (Lucy, Max, and I) left for Michigan, Lucy laid an egg, pictured above to the left of a “large” chicken egg. That was 2 weeks ago and she normally lays a clutch of 2 eggs over the course of 2 to 3 days. The trip obviously affected her delivery schedule but, the way she’s acting, I expect to find this egg’s Irish twin in the corner of her cage within the next day or 2.

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75 thoughts on “Dad’s Puffballs

    • Even though I know where and what to expect, they are still a bit of a shock. They’re huge! It’s not so bad now that they have moved, for some reason, to the side of the garage where we can more readily see them. When they spring up behind the garage, you cannot see them until you round the corner. Believe me, seeing 3 football-sized things on the lawn will stop you in your tracks.

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  1. I have never in my life heard of a puff ball…good to be educated in such things, thank you. Don’t know what I will do with such knowledge, but feel better having learned it anyway. :)

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    • I’m no expert but our farmers markets have vendors from south-western Michigan and they often sell sliced puffball by the pound, usually in mid to late September. Theirs are as big as the one featured in the opening photo. Maybe this variety is a just a larger one than those you’re familiar with. Still, big or small, they are an incredible find!

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  2. I’ve never heard of puffballs. How fun to pick these from your own yard and whip up some delicious recipes. I’d be totally partial to the Parmesan version. Yum! I hope you had a great trip back home. And really – Lucy lays eggs?! I had no idea that pet birds could do that. I mean it makes sense, I just never really thought about it. What do you do with them?

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    • Thanks, Kristy, it was a great visit, the puffballs adding an unexpected element. Yes, Lucy lays eggs about twice a year. I’ve given them to kids or just toss ‘em. Since Lucy doesn’t have a nest, she’ll often crack them on the bottom of her cage. They aren’t fertile and I’ve no intention of finding her a mate, so, building her a nest is out of the question. It is quite something to see a bird lay an egg. It’s given me a new-found respect for chickens. :)

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  3. Wow. What i want to know is how your dad decided they were edible. And yes that parmesan recipe looks just divine! really. How lovely. And Lucy and her egg. How sweet. Does she make a nest? This was a great post. c

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    • Thanks, Cecilia! Dad was no slouch in the kitchen and he was an avid hunter. I’m sure he learned about puffballs during one of his hunting trips. I’ve been advised not to supply Lucy with a nesting box or nesting materials for it will only encourage her to lay more eggs. There is always a risk that she might become egg-bound and since I’m not breeding her, it isn’t smart to take that chance. As it is, she has an area on her cage’s bottom that she considers her nest and she exhibits all kinds of nesting behaviour when down there. In the wild, her nest would be in a hole in a treetop and her mate would bang on the tree when he has food for her. When she sees that I have a treat for her, she’ll run down there, bang her beak agains the cage rungs, and wait for me to feed it to her. Throw Max into the mix and we are quite the family, aren’t we? :)

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    • They are amazing, David. They seem to grow before your eyes. When I walked Max, I walked around the area and Zia’s is the only place where they grow and I’ve no idea why. Her yard and the amount of Sun it receives is just like so many others in that area. A wonderful happenstance!

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    • You would be more than welcome, Mandy! We never really know if the puffballs are going to appear. Every now and then, they skip a year and do not grow. Lately, for some reason, they’ve moved from behind her garage to its side. The most important thing is not to cut the lawn after mid-September. When very small, the puffballs can often be hidden by fallen leaves. We were lucky that the mower just trimmed this one a little. Usually the tractor will demolish them. Good day to you, too!

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  4. WOW! Those are amazing! I’ve never heard of these and if I had seen them in my yard I would have thought they were something scary!! Sadly….or not sadly :) I’m allergic to mushrooms…considered a mold, which is really what I’m allergic to. I will say, I was shocked to see the breaded pic, they look like chicken cutlets!! I use to think picking dandelions from the road was like eating weeds, but picking gigantic mushrooms…oh my!!

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    • Believe me, Linda, if Dad hadn’t declared them edible, we would have probably used them to play kickball or something similar. Your comment about dandelion picking brought up another memory of Dad, one that I think I’ll blog about next Spring, in “dandelion season.” I hope Zia reads your comment and, if not, I’m going to make sure she does. She will get a real kick out of you mentioning picking dandelions along the roadside, as will my siblings. Thank you, Linda, for stirring up that memory and the accompanying laugh. We should take another look at our family trees. There has to be a link somewhere. :)

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      • Hi John, I was just showing a coworker your mushrooms and read your response! When I was in Ohio I was mentioning to my family how I’ve felt “connected” to family memories/traditions through reading your blog. Thanks for always posting those wonderful memories! You’re so very lucky to have your Zia around, all our aunts and uncles have passed leaving us cousins to try to keep our traditions going.

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        • And I mentioned to Zia & my Sister your comments about dandelion picking. Both times, we laughed and then started trading dandelion picking stories. Writing these recipes has been a truly worthwhile experience. Each one brings to mind it’s own set of memories, some I’ve not thought about in years. The same will happen with Zia when I question her about something within a family recipe. Thank you for your wonderful comments, Linda, and I’m glad you find these memories enjoyable and so relatable to your own family memories.

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  5. My mom used to tell stories about mushroom picking as a child; she said they used to take a sterling silver spoon with them and touch the underside of the fungus, if the spoon discoloured the shroom was poison! Needless to say, I’m too mush of a city girl to try such tricks ( and maybe chicken!) What’s your dad’s secret?

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    • I’ve never heard of the silver spoon trick, Eva, but even if I had, I still wouldn’t try foraging for mushrooms. No doubt about it, I’m chicken! Puffballs are the only fungus that I’ll be harvesting. Period!

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      • Are they all safe, John? I’ve heard for every edible shroom there is a twin that is poison!
        I didn’t know you could keep chickens in Chicago! Where do you keep her? Does she smell? Are you keeping her just for eggs? Or something else :-( ?

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        • According to the website, there is a mushroom that, when not fully mature, may look like a puffball. Once you cut it open though, you can see it has a cap & stem. A puffball has no cap and stem, it’s all solid flesh. Once you see one, I don’t think you’ll have trouble confusing it with anything else. Sorry for the confusion. My attempt to show some scale for Lucy’s egg in comparison to a chicken’s egg was misleading. I own the parrot, Lucy; i do not own a chicken. But when it comes to picking any kind of wild mushroom other than a puffball, I’m Chicken with a capital “C”. :) Have a great day!

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    • And thank you, Jed. To be honest, I’m rather surprised that so few people are familiar with puffballs. Seeing them in my Aunt’s yard and again at farmers markets, I assumed, wrongly, that puffballs were more widespread. Next year we’ll show them more respect. Maybe we’ll pick them wearing kid gloves or something.

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    • I guess you & Pilar are just going to have to visit me in Michigan next October, if you want puffballs. Judging by everyone’s comments, no one else has them. You’ll love Michigan — just bring a coat! :)

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    • It is so strange to look out into the back of her property, Ashley, and, out of nowhere, these “things” appear and just keep growing and growing. To my knowledge, none of her neighbors have ever grown any so we are very fortunate to harvest as many as 3 huge puffballs most years. It is such a lucky happenstance and one that we take full advantage of. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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    • Yes they are, Christina, surprisingly so. And as big as they are “in the wild,” get them onto your cutting board and they’re mammoth! When I got the large 1 home, even cut up, it was still too big to fit into one of my fridge’s vegetable crispers. That’s a whole lotta fungus! :)

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  6. I actually thought the first photo was bread as well, until I started reading. I was wondering what your dough was doing in the grass, ha! I can’t believe how huge the puffballs get. I’d never heard of them actually. They look delicious how you prepared them!

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    • Yes, these get huge! If Max had fixated on the smaller of the 2 pictured, it, too, would have tripled in size. Unfortunately, once Max sees something and someone says “No!” he won’t rest until he’s gotten it. In this case, he tried rolling on it. He didn’t damage it but he did detach it from the ground. Thankfully he didn’t try to lay keep-away!

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    • I wish I knew more about them so that I could help you. Did you check out the website? (http://www.mssf.org/) If nothing else, they may be able to point you to a local resource that might be able to identify one of next year’s “crop” for you. I’ve seen them at my area’s farmers markets in September. Maybe one of the vendors in your area’s farmer markets sells them and could help you determine if yours is safe. Good luck & please let us know what you find out.

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    • Yes, Stefanie, they’re big all right. I’d expect to see Wilma serve a slice of one on top of Fred’s brontosaurus burger! They are really that pre-historic looking. I just wish we knew a bit more about them so that we might try to cultivate them every year. Oh, well. Mustn’t look a gift fungus in the mouth. :)

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  7. I am a little worried about puff balls my friend. I am definitely OCD when it comes to eating questionable food but I am happy your family has had many happy years eating puffballs and living to tell about it. FYI–I just posted MAX on my pinterest doggie board. IF I can find an email for you, I will invite you to my doggie board on pinterest. If I even know how to do that. I will try. Tech challenged I’m afraid…and totally new to this social networking crap. Hope you are not offended by that word.

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    • Believe me, Geni, I am no brave mushroom forager and will not pick anything other than a puffball in Zia’s yard. These we know are safe. And like I’ve said to others, our farmers markets have vendors selling slices of puffball (for $4.00/lb!!!!!) Still, your caution is warranted with mushrooms. If in doubt, do not eat! I’d love to join your doggie board, Genie. I’ll send you an email and all you need to is reply with the info. Thank you so much for including us.

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    • They are strange, even pre-historic looking they’re so huge! And we never know if this is going to be the year they appear; they do take a year off, every now and again. It just adds to their allure. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

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  8. Through the winding corridors of farmlets in Italy, there is always a hedge of forrest, high tall trees and a vast undergrowth of greenery, wild flowers and of course mushrooms.mostly chiodini..these mushrooms are unbelievable and I have never seen any mushroom that big. The only puff balls that we’re aware of, have a huge rounded cap, but as soon as you touch them, they explode, spreading a yellow haze..I stick to buying mine…did you say chicken!

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    • Egads! Those exploding puffballs seem straight from an old Star Trek episode. All that’s missing is the death of the new guy on the “away team” as he sniffs the yellow haze. And these definitely have no cap nor stem. Each is a big oval fungus that’s attached to the ground by a very small “point” for lack of a better word. I hesitate to say “stem” because most then assume the puffball is, itself, a mushroom cap but it is far from it. Make no mistake, I am every bit a chicken as are you. I wouldn’t eat one if it grew, say, in my own backyard unless I had some expert tell me it’s safe. We’ve been eating these for years but I’m not about to try out some other fungus from another site. Cluck. Cluck, cluck! :)

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  9. Those things in the pic that are fried are puffballs? Wow. I’m from the South and we ate lots of fried stuff growing up. That pic looks so delicious…….poor Lucy…having to lay that egg. You’re always mentioning her being in a quiet trance when it’s happening. I can only imagine!

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    • Yep, those are puffballs, cubed or sliced and fried. It’s just too bad that they don’t have as much flavor as, say, a portobello. That would be one fantastic find! Yes, poor Lucy. Talk about a wasted effort!

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  10. You have a parrot? Very cool.
    I emailed my sister the puffball post (she lives in NYC but loves fungi) I went to our Strip District today and bought anise seed and almond paste and Portuguese Pignoli nuts, getting ready to bake wedding cookies. I sipped La Primacoffee and foraged for unusual shrooms. Not that I have a hankering to eat a puffball, I just wanted to see if they were around. Nothing out of the ordinary at the markets in Pittsburgh today.

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    • Yeah, Lucy is way cool! I adopted her when she was about 13 weeks old back in 2002. I should really devote a blog entry or 2 to her. I think many would be surprised to learn just how “interactive” parrots can be within a household. But, oh, how I miss those pignoli cookies! There just isn’t a good Italian bakery in this part of town anymore. As for the puffballs, I, too, checked out the farmers market this morning. They’re all gone until next September. Even then, there’s no guarantee that they’ll return. It is a real disappointment in the off-years but that only adds to the excitement of finding one the next time. If your area’s farmers markets have mushroom vendors, check with them next September. You may get lucky …. and maybe even find a puffball, too. ;)

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    • Sorry, Ruth. I thought I’d answered this earlier. This pictorial of mushrooms was beautiful! So many colors! I hadn’t heard anything about avoiding Chinese imported nuts but I’ll try to check that out. I buy my pignoli from a Greek market and they’re labeled “Product of Turkey.” They are a relative steal at $19.99/pound. Thank you, and your Sister, Mary, for the article.

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    • She is quite a character, that’s for sure. I cover her at night and, right now, she’s banging her cage door. It’s her way of telling me she’s awake and wants to start her day. And when I say banging, I mean BANGING! I’d better see to the Lady’s breakfast. Thanks, Ruth.

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    • Welcome home, Tanya! Aren’t these puffballs something? They are quite the surprise of most Falls and we look forward to seing them pop up. I think there may be a misunderstanding, Lucy is my parrot and she laid an egg the night before we left for Michigan. I placed her egg next to a chicken egg to help show its relative size. I’ve actually sen Lucy lay an egg and it is quite an experience. There is nothing easy about it, poor thing.

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  11. These look quite tasty – and I don’t care for mushrooms! Anything with Parmesan cheese is bound to be good! My sister brought me eggs last night from her chickens – she has a various brood and the eggs are different shades of blue and brown! My mom used to have a cockatiel – he was a character – never spoke but made various loud sounds and whistles! Does Lucy talk to you?

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    • Yes, those parmesan encrusted puffball slices were very good! Lucy speaks in a mechanical-like voice that most have trouble understanding. She hasn’t a large vocabulary, mostly repeating commands I’ve given my dogs; “Sit!”, “Get down!”, “Come!”, etc. She’s more a whistler and “knows” the first notes of Mozart’s “Eine Kliene Nachtmusik”, for example. I though that would be cute. Well, 8 years later and I still hear that at least a dozen times a day! She, too, is quite a character and is the unmistakable queen of this household. Woe be the person who thinks otherwise!

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    • Nor would I advise you to eat one should you find one somewhere. I know I wouldn’t. We know these to be safe and have enjoyed them for years. But they are outworldly, arent they?

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  12. As all other readers here, I had no idea that such a veggie existed (it is a mushroom??). Very cool to find it in your yard. We have a few mushrooms… but, ugh, nothing one would attempt to eat:( You’re very lucky.
    ps give Lucky sounds like an awesome family member:)

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    • And I had no idea they were so uncommon. They are a fungus and there’s no cap or stem like a mushroom has. They attach to the ground via a small “point” for lack of a better word. The bottom looks just like the top, smooth, oval, and bright white. Cut into one and you’ll smell mushroom and it will taste like a very mild white button mushroom. I don’t know if they can be eaten raw; we’ve always cooked them. And yes, Lucy is quite a character. She certainly rules the roost around here, that’s for sure!

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    • It was my pleasure visiting your blog. Peanut butter icing?!?!? Oh, that was good! And yes, these puffballs are something to see. It’s too bad I didn’t have a chance to freeze some for later; I really like a little in an omelet. Yum! Thank you for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

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  13. I’m late getting to this post, but I have never heard of a puffball before now. I love mushrooms and these look, well, good enough to eat! My mouth is watering over the pictures…especially the panko-breaded with the lovely ketchup dipping sauce.

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    • Puffballs are something special, that’s for sure! And that ketchup is too good to be called ketchup. My friends are all hooked and last week I made my 3rd batch. It really is that good!

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  15. I have never eaten a puffball! I now know I have been missing out on such an important dish all this time. I really love how they look. Especially Parmesan coated!

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    • They’re not common but they do grow around Michigan and in other States. About football-sized, they are something to come upon. Just a few weeks ago, Zia had 4 in the back of her property and one of her neighbors, about a half-mile away, had a couple, too. Zia didn’t pick them this year. We’ll see if that causes more to pop up next year. We never really know what to expect.
      There’s a mushroom vender at “my” farmers market and he sometimes sells puffballs by the slice — about $4.00 an ounce. I keep telling Zia we should start a puffball farm. We’d be rich! :)

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  17. I envy you your puffballs! I’m too chicken to go picking wild mushrooms – I’m clueless, and although I realize most are pretty harmless, it’d be just my luck to find the most poisonous ones. So alas, I won’t be stalking the elusive puffball, but it’s fun reading about it!

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    • Wait a minute, John. I’m no mushroom forager. I know what a puffball is, thanks to Dad, and I know how to differentiate between false and real morels. Otherwise, the only mushroom picking I do is at the supermarket. I’m way too chicken to try any others. :)

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  18. What a fun and fungi-filled post. At first look, I thought the puff ball was a loaf of bread! The creative uses of the mushroom in pretty amazing – and a beautiful story is told through the different preparations. Loved that the chickens stole the show at the end of the blog post – our “ladies” also rule the roost around these parts.

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    • Thanks, Shanna. Those puffballs are something aren’t they? The ting is, when you cook them, they really do shrink. It’s like cooking raw spinach. It just keeps shrinking away.

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  19. John–I ended up here via a link on your recent Blueberry Slice post. Wow! I used to eat puffballs as a Michigan kid, although only at the houses of friends who were native Michiganders (which my family was not). We regularly found them in the woods, big as softballs, which a friends mom would fry in breadcrumbs. Yum! You’re right, their flavor is very mild. But still… Sadly, I haven’t encountered them since childhood. If I came across any today I’d probably just try them naked in butter and evoo as an experiment. Great post. Ken

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    • Finally! Someone who knows what I’m talking about. You’re the only person, Ken, and some thought them dangerous. We never ate them raw, at least I haven’t. I don’t think Mom & Dad ever did either. One of the vendors at the farmers market sells them by the slice for $4.00/lb. I’m going to miss this year’s “harvest.” I spoke with Zia earlier in the week and 2 have appeared in her yard, this time a little closer to the house. For some reason, they’re on the move, heading north across her property a little bit every year. If this keeps up, one year she’ll be able to open her back door and pick them off of the porch. :)

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