Saturday, June 13, 2009

Safety First: Puffball Precautions

The Safety First series takes a look at the dangers of mushroom hunting and how hobbyists can avoid these dangers.

Hunting puffball mushrooms is often a very safe and profitable endeavor – not to mention tasty! However, there are a few precautions the aspiring mycophagist should be aware of before sitting down to a puffball meal:

As you may know, some immature mushrooms (or buttons) are contained inside a universal veil. This structure protects the mushroom during it’s development and usually ruptures when the mushroom has reached the appropriate size. It is important to know that both poisonous and edible mushrooms can use the button as a pit stop on the way to adulthood. This advice is important for identifying all mushrooms as food for the table, but it becomes VITAL when identifying puffball mushrooms. Often times the buttons of poisonous mushrooms – especially the amanita family – will look exactly like several varieties of puffballs. How do you tell the difference? Fortunately, telling the difference from the button of a developing mushroom and a potentially tasty puffball snack is relatively easy. All you need to do is make a longitudinal slice of the mushroom and take a look at the interior. The slice should reveal SOLID WHITE FLESH and have no hint of a stalk or gills. If you notice either (even if you “just suspect”) then discard the specimen right away! “When in doubt, throw it out!”

Conveniently, the second step in harvesting puffballs can be performed while you are looking at the interior of the mushroom. The flesh of a puffball mushroom should be solid white, not marbled, brown, purple, green, or any other color of the rainbow. If you split the mushroom open and see any other color other than solid white then it’s time to throw it out. Eating the mature flesh of a puffball mushroom is likely to cause some major gastrointestinal havoc! For the same reason, it is also wise for you to cook your puffball finds very quickly to avoid any spoilage.

Finally, it seems that more people have allergic reactions to the puffball mushrooms than they do for other families. Due to this risk it is advisable to make your first forays into puffballs tentative ones. By eating less on the first time you lessen the impact that potential allergic reactions can have. Wait, you say you’ve eaten puffballs before and not had any reactions? Not so fast! In his their book “Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America,” David Fischer and Alan Bessette have this to say:

“Some pople have allergic reactions to some species of puffballs, particularly the Giant. These allergies develop, at least in some cases, after years of eating them. In absence of any evidence to the contrary, and considering the similarities in taste and texture between the numerous species, it would be wise for persons suffering such reactions to avoid the entire group…”

With this information, it would probably be best to say that, as with any other mushroom, eating a large amount of puffballs in one sitting is probably not a good idea …

All this said, I can personally vouch for the great taste and texture this group of mushrooms affords any mushroom hunter who is lucky enough to find one unspoiled.