My first visit to a field nearby my house in Blaby, Leicestershire on a mild august day was only slightly productive but good fun. I chose the slightly odd title of this post for one good reason – the land adjacent (separated by a patchy hedge) is one huge golf course and as I walked through the neighbouring field I heard the constant groans and cursing of the golfers searching for their missing balls! It was an odd coincidence to come across these white balls poking their heads up through the grass. No wonder they can’t find them!
But wait. I was happily mistaken. These little white balls of fun were Meadow Puffballs (Vascellum pratense). On further research I’ve discovered they are common on and around golf courses, so perhaps my story isn’t that unique after all. Other main habitats include lawns, pasture and of course meadows.
There were around a dozen or so sprinkled around a 2-3 metre radius. Some were on their own and some were in groups of two or three. Unlike the Common Puffball (found mainly in open woodland) their stems are quite short, so they sit ‘squat’ like in the grass and they are not as large in width either, from 2-4cm across. The surface has uniformly patterned, delicate white specks. If you touch them with your finger, the powdery-like texture smudges off to create a smooth surface. On younger specimens you’ll also notice a light yellow tone about them.
These young puffballs (like most of the ‘white’ species) are edible and good. Especially nice if coated in a breadcrumb mix and deep fried. It has quite a mild flavour. If you find a Common Puffball you may have to peel the outer skin which is thicker than the Meadow Puffball. This can be a pain! But definitely worth a taste.
Avoid older specimens as they taste pretty rancid, but not poisonous in any way. Best rule is – ‘whiter the better’. Slice one in half and take a look inside. It should be a nice solid white. If there are any other colours going on in there, it’s best to forget it.
Have a look at the Meadow Puffballs in all their glory below. On the right is an example of an older specimen where, as you can see, turns light brown with the top broken open at maturity to release its spores. At the end of it’s days it still has the added usefulness as a pixies bath tub – or so I’ve been told!
As mentioned above be wary not to mistake small white ball or ‘egg-shaped’ fungi. These could be other poisonous toadstools in early development. For example the Death Cap starts life in a small white egg sack. Slicing it in half will reveal the young mushroom shape inside though. And besides, it’s a good tip to bear in mind and keep you on your toes. Be safe out there kids!
The PUFFBALLS/EARTHBALLS & ALLIES (Stomach fungi): Characteristics to look out for:
• Main fruting body is ball shaped, irregular or pedicel shaped. Broken or split at maturity to release spores