Mélanie Greffard and her husband usually head out to a nearby forest or the Eastern Townships to forage for mushrooms. So the pair had quite the surprise when they stumbled upon a Calvatia gigantea — a giant puffball the size of two basketballs in their backyard near downtown Quebec City last week. It weighed in at nearly six kilograms.
"At first, it's almost kind of scary, like, 'What is this thing?'" Greffard said, laughing. "We were really impressed with how big it was."
Giant puffballs are large mushrooms, edible when fresh, that grow on grassy areas, often on lawns or fields. They typically appear in August and September, but puffballs the size of Greffard's are a rare find.
Greffard, who grew up in the countryside, credits her mother with getting her interested in mushroom-picking as a child. She said this discovery was pure luck.
"We're right in the heart of Quebec City … and nature is all around us. It's just right there, in our backyard," she said. "It's just really cool to see that."
Greffard found a puffball at the same spot last year, but it was in its "puffing stage," which is when the fungus begins to change colour inside and starts producing spores and is no longer edible.
So she was happy when she saw that this one was firm inside and "very nice and white," a sign it's still good to eat.
Greffald made two soups with the fungus, dehydrated parts of it and even gave some slices away to friends. But a week later, she still had some in her fridge.
The family finally ate the last pieces on Friday, fried in panko crumbs.
Greffard said she's not too sad it's finally gone, except for the mushroom soup still in her freezer.
"I'm getting a little bit of an overdose of mushrooms now," she said. "Our house smelled like mushrooms for 24 hours, I think, because we had to dry some in the oven."
Easy to identify
Robert Rebselj was also able to enjoy the giant fungus this year.
The Quebec City resident, who has been picking mushrooms for about 20 years, is usually the one in his household who finds puffballs. But this year, his girlfriend struck mushroom-gold.
She found a giant puffball in a city park that weighed about 3.5 kilograms. Rebselj said it was the biggest puffball he's ever seen.
"I was pretty impressed and a bit jealous too, because I'm supposed to be the mushroom picker here," he said.
Rebselj made a soup with the fungi, using a recipe he found online.
"I pretty much just chopped it all off, and I took the biggest pot we had for boiling, like for a corn-boil size," he said, "and pretty much almost filled it up."
"We're going to be eating it for, like, the next month."
Rebselj said puffballs have a similar flavour to the white button mushrooms commonly found in grocery stores but with a slightly nuttier or woodier taste. He said their texture resembles soft tofu or marshmallows.
He said the giant fungi are a good mushroom for amateur pickers to look out for, because they are easy to identify and can't be confused with poisonous mushrooms.
And while he's keeping his best foraging spots a secret, Rebselj said the best place to find mushrooms is in mature forests.
But be warned, mushroom picking "gets addictive, and you want to learn about other ones," he said.
"It's a never-ending quest for knowledge as well because there are so many kinds and in so many different shapes."
Warning: While many wild mushrooms are edible, some are poisonous and can lead to severe illness or death. It is important to never consume a mushroom unless you are sure of what it is, and to consult an expert in case of any doubt. The Cercle des mycologues amateurs de Québec and the Cercle des mycologues de Montréal both offer identification services.