STEVE MERREN: Supreme Accompaniment

With all the focus on mushroom hunting around morels, some of the lesser-known edible species go completely unnoticed or avoided altogether.

As we move into summer, Michigan becomes a haven for wild edible mushrooms. Several of these species are as tasty on the table as the mighty morel and, in some cases, are much easier to find.

People don’t often think of summer as mushroom season, but some of the best edible wild mushrooms start growing in the height of summer and continue well into fall. Among these wild treats, one summer mushroom stands slightly above the rest and is almost impossible to miss – the giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea).

These giants of the mushroom world adorn the Michigan landscape not only in the forests but also in the lawns. Because they’re stark white and the size of a soccer ball, they stick out like a sore thumb, making them especially easy to find and nearly impossible to identify by mistake. They also make a fantastic mushroom for novice hunters looking to expand their table beyond morels. Giant puffballs can be easy to spot and identify, but they come with a time limit for edibility.

Anyone who’s ever hit an old puffball while mowing the lawn knows that it explodes into a giant cloud of spore dust that can be quite irritating to the eyes or nose. Before their innards turn to powder, however, they have firm, white flesh that’s not only filling but downright tasty. When hunting these mushrooms, keep an eye on the cleanliness of the outer layer. If the skin looks tanned or peeling, it’s probably too old to eat. If the skin is clean and white, chances are you have a good one and can feel comfortable harvesting it.

Jumbo balls can be cooked a number of different ways, and as long as they’re not overcooked, they’ll stay tender. My first experience with this mushroom on the table started off like any new mushroom – sautéed in a little butter with a sprinkle of garlic. But, over time, I’ve learned to enjoy these mushrooms at almost any level of cooking. Ultimately, they are excellent when grilled or baked and are exquisite when breaded and fried.

The preparation of this mushroom is kind of a vendor’s choice, but I always start by slicing it like a loaf of bread to check the quality of the mushroom, then I cut those cuts into strips. From there, they can be diced and added to any dish that calls for mushrooms, including dips, stir-fries, or even meatloaf.

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