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Friday, October 07, 2005

Football Season Means Puffball Season

It's football season which means it's puffball season.
Chris Grondahl wrote perhaps the definitive piece on the connection between the two.

Puffballs are the giants of the edible mushroom family. Their sheer size makes them hard to miss. They favor fields and meadows so it is difficult to hide.

They are simple to spot, non-poisonous, and one puffball can serve for a couple of meals. That's why it's the perfect wild mushroom for me.

They also have a quality that is a drawback for some and an advantage for others. It is the tofu of the fungi world. Sauteed in a little butter, it has less assertiveness than your store-bought buttons. But the flesh of the puffball is solid and meaty.

About a week and half ago, I spotted my first puffball of the season. It was along a trail in Fox Island County Park. Fox Island allows mushroom hunting. However, the puffball was a little small and immature. I knew it had slim hopes of propagating more mushrooms given its open location but I figured there would be other opportunities.

I emailed a friend of mine that it seemed to be a good time for puffballs. My friend, Jerry, is an experienced mushroom hunter and much more knowledgable about edible fungi than I will ever be (even if I wanted to be). My only contribution to his store of fungi knowledge was my relating that, as a boy, I had brought back a ripe puffball from the woods. I punted the orb in my backyard, releasing spores. The next year, our yard sported home-cultivated puffballs. Why go hunting when you can raise puffballs like tomatoes?

Last Sunday, I drove past a field along a county road. There were two large puffballs in the field visible from the road. I dutifully reported on this latest development to Jerry. I didn't divulge the location, thinking I might go back and ask the landowner if I could have one of the two.

Well, I didn't have to go back and beg. On Tuesday night, I came back from a meeting and the large puffball pictured above was sitting by my garage door.

Neighbors reported that a silver-haired seen running between the houses had dropped something off at our house. Aha, Jerry had made a delivery!

He later confessed to the caper but, like every true mushroom hunter, he did not reveal the source of this Hoosier truffle.

What does all of this have to do with public policy? Oh, probably nothing. But northern Indiana is a particularly glorious place in the first two weeks of October. And puffball season is a marker of that.

Well, there is one possible public policy connection. On the way to looking up information on the internet regarding new ways to prepare Puffballs, I came across this story from the Centers for Disease Control about respiratory disease which can arise from inhaling the spores of a ripe puffball. The jumping off point for the story was a party in Wisconsin where teenagers cut open a puffball possibly hoping for some psychedelic properties of so-called "magic mushrooms."

Does Mark Souder know about this yet?

© 2005 by Mitch Harper

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