My childhood was
crowded with adventures, many of them real, some imagined. To the
impressionable young mind of a five-year-old, even threatened adventures can be
horrific. So it was with the New Mexico Puffball Incident.
Mushrooms, technically known as Lycoperdon Maximum, can appear extremely
menacing to a youngster upon first encounter. One particular puffball was
discovered alone in a grassy field in the hills of New Mexico. The Miner
Forty-niner, a.k.a. Wells, had taken his youngest girls and their mother on yet
another adventure, mining Mica and Amazonite with the assistance of some New
Mexico Natives and a few sticks of dynamite. On one damp morning the Giant
Puffball was discovered. The Miner declared that Esther would be fixing this
tasty dish for dinner. After all, we were living off the land. The idea did not
seem too incredible as we were also residing in a pickup and camper, bathing in
ponds and making imaginary motorcycles out of old tree stumps. Never having
encountered a puffball, I was somewhat apprehensive. It resembled a batch of
bread dough, minus the bowl and warm yeasty scent. I still associate the aroma
of damp milkweed with bulging puffballs—and danger!
Esther, ever ready
to play along, ceremoniously presented the monstrous mushroom on a large dinner
plate. I was certain my parents were going to make me bite into that thing!
Only when the knife was inserted and a triangle slice removed was I certain
they could not force me to take a bite! The interior was dark olive green goo.
Disgusting! It was so disgusting that my younger and older siblings have both
blocked the experience from their memories. Esther denies it. Wells is no longer
here to argue about it. But I know there was a puffball with a knife in it on a
plate in a camper in New Mexico!
It is edible while yet unripe. It can grow to nearly 20 inches in diameter.
Ominous! When ripe the flesh turns green, flaccid, and mushy. Odor and flavor
become, yes, disgusting! As it continues to age, the green flesh dries and
becomes a dark powdery sponge that escapes its skin, scattering spores to give
life to yet more puffballs. If conditions are right—humidity and temperature
allowing—additional ominous edible mushrooms may appear.
Now I knew I didn’t like the looks of the thing
when I first saw it. The Miner’s threat of consumption made it even more
disagreeable; and on closer inspection, it was apparent that I would forgo the
edible experience—at all costs! Fortunately, it wasn’t necessary that I snub my
proper upbringing by refusing to clean up my plate—another sign of danger. The
Giant Puffball itself saved me. Its hideous flesh had the last laugh, for
neither of my prankster parents could bring themselves to partake of that green