Nature Notes

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GIANT PUFFBALLS are a form of field mushroom but even more mysterious, in that although they seem to have certain favoured sites in grassland, where they grow most years at this time of autumn, they also appear in improbable places - for instance, beside tracks in dark woods. Like field mushrooms, they tend to come up in little colonies, emerging straight out of the ground with practically no stalk, and they grow extremely fast, reaching a diameter of four or five inches within a couple of days. In this country the biggest achieve the size of footballs, but the largest ever recorded - in America - was four feet across.

Young puffballs are excellent to eat. Slicing them into thick steaks with a knife is a most satisfactory business, because the pure white flesh is extraordinarily smooth and even. The slices are delicious, particularly if fried in bacon fat. Older specimens are less satisfactory; they are often invaded by slugs or knocked over by cattle, which sometimes trample them out of curiosity. A fully mature puffball loses all charm, for its skin turns brown and papery, and its inside degenerates into yellow-brown dust, so that, if kicked, the whole thing explodes in a gaseous cloud of spores - up to seven billion of them, if experts are to be believed.

Duff Hart-Davis