Earlier this summer I was yakking to my neighbor when I looked down and saw a potato colored stone at my feet. It was the size of a small plum and, like the crow I am, I reached down to pick up the interesting stone and in the process recognized it as vegetable, or more accurately, fungus. I exclaimed to my neighbor, “Hey, it’s a puffball mushroom but I’ve never seen one that wasn’t wrinkly and puffing out its spores.”
I was intrigued. This little beast was firm and a light tan, like a new potato, with a wee tendril root at its base. I said I was going to eat it, to which my neighbor looked dubious. Oh, don’t worry, I assured him, puffballs are edible if they’re not sporing. But really, what did I know? I used to work upgrading hiking trails and got totally into trying to find edible plans. Chicken of the woods, those ripply fungi that grow on the sides of trees, were supposed to be edible and taste like, yes, chicken. But the ones I found were always woody and not the tender young things needed for chicken fungus.
Being not a total idiot (or perhaps I was) I took the shroom inside and cut it open. I was very surprised by the black texture. Most puffballs are a solid white/cream mass, just like the outside of a button mushroom. My photos aren’t that good but it wasn’t solid black, more like what it would have looked like if you paced it tightly with black poppy seeds. Well, black guts! There was no way I was going to eat this without reading up more. Was it bad? Was it a truffle?
Neither, though truffles do have black interiors but look completely different.. It is indeed a
puffball earthball, of the variety Calvatia Cyathiformis, most likely scleroderma cepa. It’s hard to find pictures on the internet and most say that scleroderma are poisonous though I found a book on Amazon that says they’re edible. The mushroom was very firm, and had no smell.
puffball earthball was so small I thought I’d do a taste test and used mildly flavored garlic olive oil. I fried the slices for about then minutes and the color turned a bit more brownish. The texture remained firm, not like button mushrooms that can turn really soft. I survived with no ill effects. This was my first wild mushroom, picked by me, and it seems the internet lead me astray! Now I want to point out that I did several hours research before even contemplating cooking it. After all, I’ve seen The Forsaken and Clint Eastwood’s fungus embroilment. I didn’t want a repeat. Probably because it was so small it hadn’t developed its toxins yet, but I can tell you that after another two hours of searching on the internet that I can’t find the sites I read originally and that there aren’t a lot of great pictures. The skin was not scaly, there was no root and only a tendril. It wasn’t bitter at all but tasty. The scleroderma cepa is used as a soil inoculant and while I don’t know what that means, it means any soil put in the yard could have carried these spores. So don’t eat these guys. Don’t try this at home kids. And just so you know, my neighbor’s gingko tree has been dropping apricot colored fruit but I will not be trying these even if you can eat up to five before you might be poisoned!
So maybe I am stupid after all. (Thanks to Hillary for pointing this out.)