Perfect morning appetizer: Fried parmesan puffball strips seasoned with pepper. Garnished with fresh chive and tomato. (Ray Stanczak / The Detroit News)
In late September 2011, Detroit News photographer David Guralnick posted to his Facebook page a photo of his child hovering over a volleyball-sized smooth white mushroom. Underneath it, he asked, “Anyone know the difference between a poison mushroom and an edible one? This one weighs about 5 pounds.”
My answer was quick. “That’s a puffball. Bring it in and I’ll cook and eat it.” And so I did. And I am still alive.
So began my relationship with Guralnick’s Farmington Hills backyard and the puffball mushrooms that appear there, seemingly overnight.
It’s the time of year when puffballs suddenly appear as if out of nowhere; in fact, a couple weeks ago I read a story online about a Michigan guy who had a bigger-than-a-basketball-sized one pop up in his yard. The surprise for me was reading Michigan State biologist Jonathan Walton quoted in the story as saying a Calvatia Gigantea (puffball) wasn’t worth any money, and he wouldn’t advise eating it.
Huh. I think they’re delicious. In fact, some people refer to puffballs as “breakfast mushrooms” because they pair so well with eggs. The Parmesan Puffballs recipe I found online — credited as one of the favorite recipes of Hope Miller’s cookbook “Mushrooms in Color” (Dutton Adult, 1981) — and tried recently makes a great morning appetizer.
So last week, I called Professor Walton myself.
“Have you ever eaten a puffball?” I asked this guy who studies mushrooms for a living. Of course he has, he said. He also said the online report didn’t get his quote exactly right. What he’d actually said, he told me, was: “Don’t eat any mushroom unless you are absolutely sure what it is.” He had cautioned that, he explained to me, because there are varieties of wild mushrooms that are very poisonous and can kill you. Quick.
But it turns out, if you are an expert plant biologist who specializes in mushrooms — or you had a Polish grand-dad like me — you know a backyard with a fairy ring of puffballs could feed an army.
This year, Guralnick harvested my breakfast in his backyard. The grapefruit-sized puffball that grew on Oct. 3 in my Facebook friend’s yard is today’s Eats & Drinks show-and-tell. This primer can help you identify, prepare and cook a puffball mushroom.
Happy hunting, identifying and eating — if you are careful and adventurous.
How to identify a puffball mushroom
Follow the picture guide below for help identifying a fresh puffball that is safe to eat, and getting it ready for cooking.
Recipe credited to Hope Miller, co-author (with Orson Miller) of “Mushrooms in Color”
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
About 1 pound puffballs, peeled and cut into ˝-inch slices
1 egg, slightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons butter or more if needed
2 tablespoons oil or more if needed
Mix the salt with the flour. Dip the mushroom slices in the flour, then in the egg, and last, in the cheese. Melt the butter and oil in a sauté pan or skillet and sauté the mushrooms slowly until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve at once. Serves 4 as an appetizer.
Per serving: 422 calories; 29 g fat (12 g saturated fat; 62 percent calories from fat); 28 g carbohydrates; 102 mg cholesterol; 1,098 mg sodium; 17 g protein; 2 g fiber.