Foraging for puffball mushrooms

Discover nature's own 'takeaways', with expert guidance from forager Fraser Christian

Foraging for puffball mushrooms

The long summer days and hedgerows of plenty seem almost distant memories, except for the preserves and stores of dried and pickled delights. As the leaves fall silently from their branches covering the woodland floor, they create a carpet of safety, allowing for all sorts of mushrooms and fungi to thrive and explode into a magical assortment of shapes and colours.

What you're looking for
Taking into account the fact that there are some really poisonous – and if eaten fatal – varieties of wild mushrooms, unless you really know your stuff as far as identification, I would recommend starting with some really easy and hopefully unmistakable 
ones, such as the puffballs. The puffball mushroom comes in a few different shapes and sizes, from the small common puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) to the magnificent giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea). Both are almost perfectly round in shape and their colour is at first a pale milky white, similar to the common button mushroom.

Where you'll find them
Both varieties are commonly found in woodland glades, pastureland, and even coastal land exposed to the sea. The weather conditions are favourable for foraging during a warmish but damp period, and before a hard frost.

How to forage them
You should only harvest and collect well-matured puffball specimens – never pick them in the early 'button' stage, as many mushrooms and fungi, including some poisonous ones, look very similar in these early stages of development. Both varieties should not be eaten when they're yellow. As with all foods, the body's acceptance of new foods differs greatly with everyone, so always only eat a small amount of a new wild food at first, to see how your body accepts it.

How to identify the...
Common puffball: The main fruiting part of the common puffball is between 4-7cm tall and 3-5cm wide. The colour initially is white to greyish, then later yellow, finally becoming a dirty yellow/brown, leaving a dry paper-like outer full of dust. The round, slightly pear-shaped fruit of the common puffball is covered with tiny spine-like growths that will brush off if rubbed. The fruit is mounted on a short bulbous stem.
Giant puffball: This easily identifiable giant relative of the small common puffball is about 15-30cm wide and almost ball-like in shape. The giant puffball is prized over the common variety for flavour and texture. Its colour is a creamy white that turns yellow after time.

Warning!
Fungi and mushrooms are well documented and there are many good books on the subject, but as with any wild food identification, first-hand experience 
and identification from an experienced forager is always essential.

Wild Forage

Wild Forage organises wild food and foraging courses along the seashore and in the countryside. Courses are run for small groups anywhere in the UK, plus individual courses in most southern counties. You can learn how to correctly identify and cook wild foods, as well as discover their medicinal and cosmetic qualities. For more info, visit www.wildforage.co.uk.

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