I was putting the perennial garden to bed when I saw it: a great, white lump of spongy mushroom just beyond the fence where none had been the day before. It was as large as a human skull, or a partially deflated volley ball. I knew right away what it was, for they are unmistakable at this time of year. It was a giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea), and better still an immature one and therefore edible.
The inside was compact and fleshy - you can mush them up like Wonder bread - and they are so good when properly prepared! There was no sign of the yellowish stain that indicates an overripe and inedible specimen, nor yet the hard rubbery skin and dark black interior of the poisonous false puffballs of the Scleroderma species. The deadly amanitas have a volva or "universal veil" completely enveloping young mushrooms and do not reach this size. It was a keeper, and I brought it into the kitchen.
These are fairy ring mushrooms, though I found only this one. The fruiting body matures in about a week and reach sizes far larger than my puffball. They contain all their spores within the body of the mushroom - billions upon billions of them. They can be eaten stir fried but the best way, to my way of thinking, is the way I prepared them tonight. I sliced them into 1/4 in thick slabs, dredged them in egg whites and bread crumbs, and sauteed them to a turn with grated Romano cheese and served them with homemade marinara sauce.
They were divine, an autumn gift in a house that already smelled of apple butter bubbling in the crock, and drying apple rings, and fruit leathers. The sky was deep blue today and the leaves settled singly beneath the backyard maple that a few months from now will host dripping spiles and sap buckets. I savor these seasonal offerings, especially the unlooked for and unexpected, like puffballs at the backfence where none had been the day before.