Calvatia gigantea

Large as life – The Giant Puffball

There is no danger in mistaking this fungus with any other. Nothing comes close to its unique size and appearance. Everyone should feel lucky if they ever find any of these beauties in their prime. I only have the occasional luck here and there. They’re either too young, too old or vandalized! Late summer and autumn is the best time to go hunting for them.

PuffballsThe pictures of these magnificent Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) were kindly supplied by Brian Friend (excluding the header & bottom right image) taken in his garden in Stickney, Lincolnshire. My discoveries to date haven’t been particularly photogenic, so many thanks again Brian.

So here were not just one, but several Giant Puffballs in a long line – or so it seems. They are actually part of a large partial ring. The averge puffball size I would say would be approximately 20-23cm in diametre (around 4kg). They could also still be in the process of growing even larger. Mature specimens can reach up to 80cm across (approx. 20kg) or even larger in some exceptional cases.

Apart from hedgerows and woodland edges, it is gardens and pasture land that are the most common habitat for this fungus, often found in full or partial fairy rings (as in this case).

The outer skin is white or creamy white and is firm and leathery to the touch. The inner flesh contains a dense white spore mass, known as gleba. These young reproductive spores amount in excess to around 7-8 trillion – and sometimes more. That’s one determined fungus keen on reproduction! However, only a couple of the spores may find purchase and reproduce elsewhere. Maybe this is not a bad thing, otherwise we’d be knee deep in them every autumn.

With age, the skin rots away and peels, leaving the now mature olive-brown spores to be released. This is further helped when the whole fruiting body becomes detached from it’s relatively small mycelial attachment (small white root-like appendage) and is free to roll ‘not-so-gracefully’ over the surrounding grassland.

If you’re lucky enough to find these magnificent white balls in their prime, the young white flesh is excellent for eating, and there’s a wealth of recipes out there for it. Here’s just a choice few:

Happy Hunting…

Giant Puffball image identification

The Giant Puffball can reach up to 80cm across. Older examples peel open and release the mature brown spores within (bottom right).

 

6 replies
  1. Varsha
    Varsha says:

    Never have I had the pleasure! Always wanted to see this, more so for the table! The thought of slicing this and sauteeing this is torture!

    Reply
    • J C Harris
      J C Harris says:

      Hi Varsha
      I always seem cursed too, never to find a nice crop. I’d just like to take one and leave the rest to do their thing. I’d love to have a nice menu going with them. You never know though, I could get lucky in the next few weeks.

      Reply
  2. Dave White
    Dave White says:

    Great post John. Found my first viable giant (as well as my first Ceps) on Saturday and love the recipes you shared. Have just been doing mine so far dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and fried like a schnitzel (was toying with the idea of puffball cordon bleu so will let you know you that turns out) – happy hunting.

    Reply
    • J C Harris
      J C Harris says:

      thanks for the feedback Dave. I must say, your Giant Puffball recipe sounds fantastic. Simple yet wholly tasty. Can’t wait to try that one. The Cordon bleu dish sounds great too. Let us know if you have good results with that.
      Cheers
      John

      Reply
  3. Martin
    Martin says:

    Do you have any tips on how to preserve giant puffball?

    I found my first one the other week, and wasn’t able to use it all straight away.
    A few articles online suggest freezing it raw, which I tried, but sadly after thawing out it was smelling bad (the same nasty smell that you get from puffballs that have matured too far to eat).

    Reply
    • J C Harris
      J C Harris says:

      Hi Martin.
      I think freezing isn’t the best way. It works best with very young and firm (smallish) sized puffballs, but after freezing, I don’t think it’s the best. You can slice, cook them and then freeze, but I haven’t tried that although other people have, but I’m not too sure! If you have a particularly modest sized and fresh specimen, you could try slicing carefully and drying (best done with a Food Dehydrator you can buy online). Again, I haven’t done this but I think it’s a good method. Anyone else with good ideas on preserving a Giant Puffball? Pickling perhaps?

      Reply

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