THE GIANT PUFFBALL – A GLUTEN FREE MYSTERY

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It was a bit startling in mid September when my son came to pick up my grandson and asked what the big white beach ball was that was growing in our yard. He said that it had gotten bigger each day since he had noticed it several days ago. Curious, we went to examine the growth. It was about the size of a soccer ball, almost perfectly round, white, and growing out of the gravel near our driveway. It had a dense sound when tapped and it seemed solid.

It was time to investigate. My first thoughts were that it had to be some sort of fungus since we had recently had a few days of rain. Researching it on the internet, there was surprisingly a lot of information. There were even some YouTube videos describing it, giving the history and scientific name, and also recipes. Yes, it was an edible mushroom. By this time, the family had come up with all sorts of guesses as to the identity. Some of the strangest ideas were; an alien pod, a huge white marble, a scorpion larval sac, a tyrannosaurus egg, and a downed white helium balloon.

The scientific name for the white beach ball invader was actually calvatia gigantea and commonly known as the giant puffball mushroom. It was easy to spot and identify because of its large size and pure whiteness. This fungus grows in late summer and early autumn in woods, forests, fields, and surprisingly in back yards. The only competition it had for look-alike quality was the amanita mushroom which was a much smaller version of the white puffball when it first appears. As it grows, the amanita takes a traditional mushroom shape and is also poisonous. The calvatia gigantea is easily distinguished from the amanita when it is cut open. The puffball mushroom is pure white and has the look of a marshmallow inside while the amanita looks like a typical mushroom is growing on the inside of it. By the time the giant puffball grows to maturity, its size alone separates it from the amanita.

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Taking instruction from the many videos I watched, I picked the puffball, washed the outer skin, peeled it, chopped up a handful, sautéed in butter, and ate. The taste was mushroomy and woodsy. The mouth feel was like tofu. The family was too grossed out to eat any and carefully monitored me during the next day in case I fell down clutching my stomach in agony. The stem on the puffball was very short, barely an inch. It was suggested to peel the thin skin, which comes off easily, because although edible, may cause stomach distress. I cut and froze the rest of the mushroom and vowed to make it for Thanksgiving as a side dish. A week later several more puffballs appeared in my neighbor’s yard. I picked, prepared, and froze a couple of them and left the rest to the hungry lawn mower. It should be mentioned that if there is any discoloration of yellow or brown on the inside of the mushroom, it has begun turning to spore and is not edible. Also, consult a mycologist about giant puffball identification.

But, why were puffballs showing up on our lawns now after many years? Turns out that several weeks prior, my neighbor hired an organic lawn company to fertilize her yard. The spores were most likely in the organic material.

So, the mystery of the giant puffball was solved, and it was gluten free eating. What still remains a mystery, however, is; why are there “scorpions” living in Ohio!!