Pear-Shaped Puffball Mushrooms (Lycoperdon pyriforme)
Fall is one of my favorite times for foraging wild mushrooms. Not only is the weather pleasant, and many of the mosquitoes are gone, but there is nothing quite like moving through the woods in crisp weather.
Here in the far western 'burbs of Chicagoland the woods are full of puffballs, hen-of-the-woods, chicken mushrooms, wood ear, honey mushrooms, and bluettes.
Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea), pictured to the left, is the first of the fall mushrooms that arrive. They can get the size of soccer ball, but normally, they are best picked smaller. Honestly, while I get excited to see them, I rarely pick them. I don't like their spongy texture and their lack-luster taste. They are the soft tofu of the mushroom world. (Sorry if you really like tofu.)
However, the pear-shaped puffball (Lycoperdon pyriforme) is an often over-looked delight. These puffballs rarely get larger than 1 1/2 inches across. They grow on rotting deciduous trees in clusters. I find them mostly on oaks.
The outer "skin" is tan, buff, to yellow with some darker brown tiny warts or slight texture. The inside should be pure white. NEVER eat a puffball of any kind that is not pure white inside. Once they start to turn yellow, they are too old and can cause stomach upset. ALWAYS cut into EVERY puffball, no mater how tiny. Never eat any that are yellow inside or look like any other than a marshmallow texture. You want to make sure there is nothing that looks like a developing cap or stem, because these can look like early growth stages of other mushrooms.
The mushroom is pear-shaped, although might be slightly distorted if growing next to other, as is often the case. They have no stalk, but are attached directly to the wood with mycelium.
The pear-shaped puff ball is small, but often you can gather many of them. My favorite way to eat them is like popcorn! Cut them all in half. Saute over high heat in butter, a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook until the outside is crispy and dry. Cool slightly and start snacking!
Just like with all wild mushrooms, if you have never consumed a certain variety before, eat just a small bit and wait 24 to 48 hours to see how your body reacts. We can all have food sensitivities that we may not know about, especially to mushrooms.
*Please use common sense when mushroom picking and eating. This can be a dangerous activity if you are not 100% sure of what you are doing. While mushroom identification field books are handy, there is no substitute for an experienced local guide. Mushrooms can have deadly look-a-likes. This isn't to say that you cannot learn to identify mushrooms, but please use caution and proceed at your own risk. If you are interested in booking me as a guide, please fill out the form here.