Fall 2022 on PEI saw an amazing crop of mushrooms including edible and delicious Puffballs (Calvatia spp.) popping up in places I’ve never noticed them before.
Puffballs can be found in grassy areas and lawns across the Island. I found these for the first time on my own land in Central PEI. They grow directly from the ground (Photo 1), are solid white throughout (Photo 2), and have a pleasant mushroomy smell. Puffballs can be found individually (as seen here) or in clumps; in either case, where you find one there will usually be more.
The more I learn about and try PEI’s edible fungi, the more I think those bland, anemic things sold as mushrooms in supermarkets are undeserving of the name. Puffballs hold their shape and brown nicely when cooked and don’t give off a lot of water like commercial mushrooms do (Photo 3). The flavour is excellent: mild but meaty, with that umami bomb you want from a fungus. I’m a proud carnivore, but might get by without meat with mushrooms like these.
There’s not much you can confuse for Puffballs, as long as you pay attention. That smooth exterior and solid, featureless white interior are important. Toxic Earthballs (Scleroderma spp.) have a thick, cracked-looking skin (Photo 4) and - although they start out white inside - darken as the mushroom matures (Photo 5). Toxic Amanitas have a ghostly outline of a mushroom inside, while Stinkhorn eggs (Phallus spp. and Mutinus spp., considered edible) have layers of brown and white inside.
I am *not* a mushroom expert, but have been foraging our common, easy-to-identify species for a few years. I often hear from people who are afraid of wild mushrooms, knowing some are toxic. As a botanist, I’m betting we have more toxic wild plants than toxic wild fungi, including some plants that can kill you in very unpleasant ways. Additionally, no mushroom can harm you unless you ingest it. Handling any mushroom is perfectly safe, but we have plants that can cut, burn or sting you with just a touch.
I don’t want you to fear wild plants, but please don’t fear wild mushrooms either. If you learn about PEI’s cool fungi you’ll enter a fascinating world that includes some culinary delights!