The giant puffball mushroom or Calvatia gigantea is an edible mushroom which is found abundantly in meadows, deciduous forests, and fields all over the world. While the flavor of a giant puffball mushroom is rather bland, the mushrooms have a dense, meaty texture and they absorb flavors very readily, making them a popular edible. Farmers' markets may have giant puffball mushrooms in season, as will some specialty stores. If you are an experienced mushroom hunter, you can also collect them.
The mushroom looks vaguely like a large ball of meringue which has been dropped on the ground. When it is ready to eat, the giant puffball mushroom will start to crack slightly, revealing a blindingly white interior. Within days, the spores in the interior will mature and the mushroom will start to rot, becoming inedible. If the mushroom is allowed to dry out, a swift kick will release a plentiful cloud of dust, as many woods-walkers have learned.
In many cases, a giant puffball mushroom can closely approach a soccer ball in size, and it can weigh up to 40 pounds (20 kilograms). When sliced open, a giant puffball mushroom will be pure white, with no trace of gills at all. The mushrooms should be trimmed to remove bad portions and brushed for dirt, if they are going to be eaten. If you want to save giant puffball mushrooms for later, cook them before freezing them, as they do not freeze well when raw, and do not bother with trying to dry them.
The mushrooms can be sliced and marinated like other meaty mushrooms, and they can also be added to soups, stews, and sauces. When cooked, the texture closely resembles tofu, and the mushrooms tend to be very dense and satisfying. Many people like to add them to dishes which they intend to freeze, since the cooked mushrooms will hold up well in the freezer for several months.
Numerous puffball mushrooms are edible when young, and some of them are quite tasty. However, several poisonous mushrooms look a great deal like puffball mushrooms when they are young. Therefore, it is extremely important to identify a puffball mushroom correctly before harvesting and eating it. If your mushroom identification skills are weak, try taking a class or guided tour to collect mushrooms, and always check your finds with someone else. Even experienced mushroom identifiers have been known to misidentify puffballs, so they require more caution than some other edible mushroom species.