Puffballs for Breakfast

At around eight thirty after dinner I usually take a walk around the farm Elizabeth and I are currently looking after. Part of the fun is feeding the fallen apples to the cows. Over the past few weeks they seem to have got addicted to them, and pursue us across the fields, their mouths drooling.
It was on this occasion yesterday, as I was attempting to escape the rampant beasts, that I stumbled, quite literally, upon a giant puffball (Calvatia Gigantea) nestled under one of the many apple trees that litter the farmlands.

I had once eaten one at school. Rather bizarrely our physics teacher brought one into class and cooked it on a camping stove during the lesson. Apparently it was part of the laws of thermodynamics module, but I can’t remember the exact context – Everything is created: everything is destroyed (eaten), perhaps…?

Remembering Mr. Mitchell’s culinary introduction to Isaac Newton, I yanked the football-sized mushroom from the ground and carried it home via a trek up High Field, across a small river and down through the apple orchards. When I arrived home, it was still intact.

Despite its resemblance to a brain, it smelt gorgeous. Like a slightly peppered steak.

‘Breakfast tomorrow!’ I exclaimed to Elizabeth enthusiastically.

Her eyes rolled upwards as she recalled the near poisoning incident we had with some misidentified field mushrooms a few years ago. In that instance I picked yellow stainers instead of field mushrooms and needed the bathroom rather quickly after wolfing down a plate of mushroom stroganoff. I was alright in the end, mild gut ache, but I’ve been a little wary of wild mushrooms ever since.

This time though I was sure. Why? Because puffballs are probably the most easily identifiable mushrooms on the planet. They are big and when sliced lengthways they are white and spongy, and have the texture of soft suede leather.

Yes it is true that when they are smaller they can be confused with amanata which are deadly. However when a puffball is sliced open it will be pure white with no internal structures or gills whatsoever – it is literally like slicing through a large ball of mozzarella cheese. Plus when puffballs are this size, it is highly unlikely to be anything else.**

As you can see, it’s lovely white. (If it’s discoloured, don’t eat it as it’s no longer edible.)

Next slice it into cubes like you might do with tofu or pieces of steak or courgette.

Slice 3 cloves of garlic and fry it all up with butter or oil for about 5-10 minutes. Like this:

Et voila, breakfast, with toast of course.

What does it taste like?

It’s clearly a mushroom. But it has a distinct meaty taste, almost like veal. Or even monkfish. It’s hard to describe. It’s certainly not chalky like tofu. Neither is it succulent like fish. It’s a bit slimy – like chicken legs – but it is filling and mildly satisfying.

When I was eating it, I imagined it roasted. Or even made into soup. It’s more of a camping food I guess. Pitching a camp and foraging for a nice puffball, even though it’s availability is limited to late summer/early autumn. Plus they are not that easy to find. While not rare, finding one this big isn’t common.

Best thing is to try it for yourself. It’s out now in a field near you!

Giant Puffball – Calvatia Gigantea

 

(** P.S. I am not an expert. This was my own personal identification using my own knowledge and research. Please do the same if unsure. Thanks.)

213 – Fish Pie and the Art of Writing

If I was asked what meal I’d eat before I died, I’d choose fish pie. I’d even offer to cook it, I like it that much.

I see making it as like writing a story or a book. Four or five strong characters – the fish. The peas as the bad guys. The béchamel sauce, the plot. The potato topping, the location. The grated parmesan and gruyere cheese (my personal choice), the twist. Baked in the oven for thirty minutes, it’s got the makings of a classic.

One of the reasons I like cooking this dish is the almost infinite combinations of fish you can use. Anything that lives in the sea is fair game in my book. So many strong contenders and characters.

And when you throw in all the differing variations of sauce, mashed potato and cheese, there’s literally a million ways your fish pie (or book) can end up. In fact, it’s safe to say that no two fish pies are the same. Just like a story.

The one I cooked last night wasn’t my best, I admit. Mainly because I was concentrating on filming it rather than thinking about my culinary journey.

Having all the ingredients on the table (good characters, strong plot, perfect setting, quirky twist) doesn’t necessarily make a great meal or a book. You need the passion. Your full attention. If you’re doing it half arsed then you’re going to bake a watery fishpie full of tasteless peas, tepid mashed potato, a bland filling, and a spongy topping with no twist in it whatsoever.

Writing is like fish pie. You can’t just throw it together and hope for the best. There’s no fluke in writing or cooking. If there was, everybody would be doing it. Not that anybody can’t. Far from it. It’s the easiest thing in the world. Even I can do it…

(The video below features strong fish.)