My Aunt B.J. and my father were the wild food connoisseurs in the family. They taught me a long time ago to look for wild foods and it has become a hobby for me especially since I like to try new things anyway.
I wish they could have taught me more, but alas, between the three of us needing to work to earn our keep, we couldn't get together as often as we would have liked.
One thing Auntie B.J. showed me though, was how to find Giant Puffballs to use in cooking as an economical mushroom substitute.
As you can see by the photos, some of them can be quite large!
In Northern Maine, we have to wait until late Aug. to early Oct., when nights start cooling down but days are a pleasant temperature, for the cold rains to come and soak lawns, hills and low lying areas. We have a lot of land that has very rich soil as much of it was cleared and farmed almost forever. Anyplace that is good and fertile with compost is a good place to start looking.
All you have to do is keep your eyes open for the tell tale white mounds on lawns or sheltered shady areas which do not dry out quickly.
Once you find one, you must make sure that it is solid and not soft.
Puff balls can be a staggering sight if you've never seen one before. I have picked some that have been 2 1/2 feet high and nearly 4 feet around!
The ones you need to find should be of mainly one color, usually eggshell white. If it's a little yellow or greenish, then it is considered "gone by" and will become soft and mushy very fast.
Puffballs are attached to the ground by a thin "thread" type of stalk or root which makes them easy to harvest.
Look your orb over for any dirt or discolorations and clean it with a damp cloth. Try not to use excess water in cleaning your "shroom" as this will make it soggy and harder preserve.
Once that is done, you can slice it like bread. I do recommend a serrated bread knife, as the cut will be much cleaner than with a non-serrated knife.
Once you have them sliced to your desired thickness, you can cube them to the desired size you want for when you need to use them.
I usually cut mine into one inch pieces about half to 3/4 of and inch thick. Then, I lay them on an un-greased cookie sheet and preheat my oven to the lowest setting and allow them to dry for a couple hours.
They should not toast, although I can imagine toasted ones could find uses in soups and stews, but just drying them, either in an oven or dehydrator is fine.
Once they are done and cooled off, you can put them in canning jars with a small packet of desiccant to absorb any moisture that maybe left. You do not want moisture to spoil your toiling, as your work will mildew making the whole thing useless to you.
When they are dried, you may find that some will crumble and powder. Don't throw them out! I use my puffball powder to make Cream of Mushroom Soup.
Another couple ways to save these is by pickling pieces in oil, or in vinegar. I have had really good results by lightly blanching them in boiling water, then freezing them in freezer bags.
Now, you are ready to use them anytime in any recipe! The moisture in your recipe will "reconstitute" dried puff pieces.
My favorite way to have few at the beginning of the season is to saute'a slice or two in a cast iron fry pan while they are fresh, usually in butter or margarine with a little seasoning. I like these about pancake size and can eat a couple as a whole meal!
I have whipped up an egg mixture (get creative) and soaked the pieces, then rolled and covered the pieces in in a dried bread crumb mixture or batter and deep fried them in olive or vegetable oil. They are delicious! Much like the deep fried mushrooms you can get in any restaurant.
I will try to grill some thicker pieces on my grill this coming year. I have heard a few friends say that they get a vegetarian seasoning that actually makes them taste like beef, which makes me think of "steaks on the barbie"!
Here are a couple good sites I've found to check out more info should you be interested in trying these for yourself.