Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Torrential downpours and flash flooding seem to have dominated much of the June weatherscape. And although it may not compare with the devastation seen during last year’s never ending rainfall, area fields and woodlands are plenty wet. Surplus moisture, coupled with warming temperatures, has created an ideal climate for the production of summer mushrooms. Several species of gilled mushrooms have been especially abundant during June. Last week, for example, I discovered a single cluster containing more than 100 plump ink caps growing at the base of an ancient, over-the-hill basswood — fantastic!!
Although we don’t normally find many giant puffballs until late summer [August or early September in extreme Northern Iowa], a few are showing up now. These specimens are not the soccer ball sized puffballs that most of us are familiar with. Instead, they are a much smaller fist sized version of the same mushroom; running about four to six inches in diameter.
Extremely dense in texture, puffballs have a rich, earthy flavor that makes them one of my favorite wild edibles. The fruit is at its peak when the mushroom feels “weighty”. The meat should be pure white all the way through and harbor at least some moisture. Like most wild mushrooms, puffballs can be sauteed [plain or breaded] in oil or butter. Although they’re excellent when prepared that way, my all time favorite method is to saute in butter until slices are about half cooked. At that point, I add a thick Asian hot sauce to the mix and finish cooking. The end result is a serving of mushrooms that — well, it just doesn’t get any better than this. Prime puffballs are extremely rich and one or two 4-inch mushrooms are about all I can handle.
Foragers Beware: You may encounter an occasional imposture lurking about. “Real” puffballs are always found on the ground. The sphere’s bottom is always solid; never gilled. If you find gills, don’t even think about eating it. Attempting to consume a gilled puffball wannabe could easily earn you a memorable trip to the ER. There are, of course, other evil species of mushrooms growing in Iowa woodlands. Always be sure. Never, Ever, Ever guess at what you’re picking. And DO NOT trust the internet. I recently tried to find a photo ID of a questionable specimen by going online. Guess what I found. One of my own photos popped up as the “voucher photo”. Don’t know how the pic made its way to the internet, but my experience should serve as a good wake up for anyone who trusts that source.