If you are lucky enough to find puffballs, especially giant puffballs (Calvatia gigantea), in your travels they must be eaten almost immediately as they simply don’t keep. Put them in the fridge, and they will last maybe two days, perhaps three if your fridge is very cold. Freezing them on the same day is also possible but they are not nearly as good as when eaten fresh. I used to harvest them from the golf course when I lived in Aberdovey, but never did I collect any this enormous! My father had a couple, I had a couple and a neighbour had one. These came from a local grass verge that I was driving past, and I pulled over to go and retrieve them. Because puffballs reproduce during the decay of the puffball (at which point it puffs off its spores), always leave one behind to ensure that there is a chance of them coming back next year.
As always, collecting wild mushrooms comes with a health warning. It is easy to mistake puffballs for mildly poisonous earthballs when they are both very small and white, although earth balls quickly become dark as they grow whereas puffballs look pure white throughout their growth cycle, until they mature and the spores (like seeds) are ready to depart when they go creamy yellow. They are pretty well unmistakeable when they reach a size bigger than a golf ball, but read more about them here on the excellent Forager Chef website.
Puffballs have a subtle mushroomy taste and a soft texture, both of which are quite unique and utterly delicious. When they are big enough, they are fabulous cut into big slices and tossed in sizzling butter and fresh sage. Small ones can be cooked whole.
There are a million ways of serving them, some gastronomic, others rather more down to earth. Last night I had mine fried in butter (yes, I know, but how delicious), served at the bottom of a stack made up of a rasher of smoked back bacon, a slice of excellent black pudding, both done on an iron griddle plate over a high flame, with a handful of steamed spinach over the top and a poached Churton egg on the top of that. Bliss. I’ve been a bit off food recently, but I couldn’t wait to cook this.
For a vegetarian version, the puffball slices would be excellent cooked in garlic oil, and served on griddled sourdough toast with the spinach, courgettes, and crispy sage leaves, or with asparagus, perhaps with a drizzle of cream. For me, the poached egg is a must with this meal.
However you cook giant puffballs, be careful not to overwhelm their delicate flavour. I would not, for example, do them in a red wine sauce, but they go well in a white wine and cream sauce, or in a pasta carbonara. They are also sensational as an accompaniment for steak, and go very well with chicken or pork. As tapas, they are divine cooked in garlic and sherry.