Puffballs come in many sizes, some as small as a marble and some as large as a basketball. The name "puffball" is used here to refer to three genera of fungi, Calvatia, Calbovista, and Lycoperdon. Their surfaces may be smooth, covered with small or large warts, or ornamented with spikes. Puffballs are usually white and round, and are attached to the ground with little or no apparent stem.
Puffballs seem to prefer disturbed earth, and enjoy surprising the forager, for they are seldom the prey being sought. The largest ones are members of the genus Calvatia. It is estimated that the average mature specimen of C. gigantea contains 7 trillion spores stored inside the puffball!
Most puffballs are safe to eat, although rare reactions have been reported. Assuming you have obtained reliable puffballs, you should sitll follow these steps before eating them:
1. They must be all-white inside. Any shade of yellow or purple makes them inedible or upsetting.
2. When cut, they must have a uniform internal consistency. The external appearance of immature Amanita species is similar to puffballs. However, the cap and gills of these unexpanded mushrooms become apparent when the egg-shaped fungi are cut in half. The Amanita genus includes the most poisonous species of mushrooms.
Cleaning: Clean them as necessary and dry on paper towels. Some people develop intestinal irritation from the outer covering, so peel this layer with a knife.
Cooking: Some people refer to puffballs as "breakfast mushrooms" because they blend so well with eggs. But they also serve beautifully as side dishes with dinner entrees. A thick slab of puffball develops a lovely golden color when browned in butter. They are often cut into cubes for cooking.
Dip slices in a batter of egg and milk and cover with bread crumbs seasoned with salt and pepper. Sauté in butter and serve with a piquant sauce as the main course for a vegetarian dinner.
Thinly sliced and pan-seared large Calvatias can be used as crêpes. Rolled around crab meat, tuna, or other fillings, and held in place with a toothpick, they can be baked for your next party.
Preserving: Chop and sauté them before freezing. The larger species may be sliced and slightly fried, then frozen for later use as crêpes. Separate each portion with waxed paper. Dehydrated puffballs can be powdered for flavoring bland foods.