Vesce de loup (Giant puffball) contest
(details en Français à suivre)
François has launched his annual puffball contest, that is a call to all adventurous nature buffs (or anyone strolling through the woods) to bring in any giant puffballs for the chance at a prize. The owner of the largest (or should I say heaviest) one collected before September 30, 2008 will claim a 400$ value meal (for 4) at Les Jardins Sauvages during our wild mushroom event in October.
We’ve already received several entries; the biggest so far picked by my very own diamond-apprentice Jonathan at 12 lbs. He stumbled across it on his neighbour’s lawn. Never mind that it was his only day off in a while, so proud of his find, he drove in from the country to François’ stand at the market, much to everyone’s delight. Passers-by were snapping pictures, incredulous that this massive white globe was indeed an edible local wild mushroom. He got to frying bits of it up for curious customers, and ended up spending the day there amidst the excitement. You see, it was 3 times the size of his head, and no matter how much he would have liked to leave it on display, the fact of the matter was that it was ready to be eaten.. Although still pristine white and densely spongey throughout, it was a day or two more advanced than ideal for good keeping; in any case, these babies are best eaten right away.
François has come in with a few of his own too; although not quite as big, they were slightly firmer, which is what we like, hence the weight of the mushroom carrying the most importance. François’ record puffball weighed in at 18lb back in 2000.. With the terrific mushroom season underway this year, and an early start, we expect quite a few more to rival Jo’s (fingers crossed).. He’ll be working anyway (?!).
The contest is more for the fun of it all; the truth is that I would prefer many medium sized ones instead of one mega one for the best taste and texture. Not to mention that I don’t have pans big enough for a full slice of one of those, or enough pans or burners - it would take me all night to fry up one mushroom. It is kind of neat to think that you could feed an army, an entire extended family (or a full restaurant) with one mushroom though, and I must admit, the wow factor is there when you see a biggie up close. But once it’s all chopped up, no one knows or cares how big it was in the first place. Too small is no good either though because the skin to flesh ratio is higher. And do I like the versatility the bigger slices provide (as long as they fit in my pan) .. So aim for big, but I’ll gladly take the smaller ones.
The giant puffball is delicious just sautéed up in pieces, but with the big ones, you can get slices the size of a large sauteuse or hotel pan which opens up other options for dishes.. In previous years, we have used a slice as a pizza crust or layered it in a gratin. Last year I had less, so I fried up strips tempura style. I have also cubed it and added it to tartare, to ratatouille, to stir-fries. It has a delicious, prominent classic mushroom flavour, which is on the softer side when young, becoming stronger tasting with age, but always good, a definite must-try for mushroom lovers. In texture it is oddly spongy yet firm (when good), reminiscent of eggplant, and in cooking too, the way it can really soak up the oil if you’re not careful. You need a really hot pan and a generous amount of oil, then when it starts browning, you can lower the heat, flip the slices over, add a pat of butter, salt and pepper, that’s it that’s all. It won’t ever be crisp (unless you leave it to dry out a bit in the oven), but then you risk bitter notes, so best to leave it as is flavour wise.
If you do find one, you must try it out. If you find two, or come across a biggie, as in more than you can eat, bring it in please! I will be needing a bunch for my wild mushroom menu..
And you don’t have to be an expert forager; these you can see a mile away – like a golf ball or soccer ball (depending on how lucky you are) on the grass. One year when François was away, I found the first of the season, by tripping on one (I kid you not) on my way to the back shed. They come back every year right in the same spot on that path. In drier years, I have seen François water them as babies, watching them, caring for them right up until the perfect moment they are to be picked!
The proper notice (in French) :
Amateur de champignons ou mycologue averti,
Les Jardins Sauvages et François Brouillard, le véritable gourou des sous-bois, vous invitent à participer au concours de vesse-de-loup géante (Langermannia gigantea) de Lanaudière.
Vous avez trouvé une vesse-de-loup géante ? Appelez François au 450 588-5125 et venez faire homologuer votre prise aux Jardins Sauvages, 17, chemin Martin, à St-Roch de L’Achigan.
Le gagnant se méritera un repas pour quatre personnes À la Table des Jardins Sauvages lors d’un de nos dîners thématiques champignons cet automne, une valeur de 400$ mais faites vite, les champignons doivent être présentés avant le 30 septembre.
Consultez le www.jardinssauvages.com pour plus d’informations.