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Paul Beverage


The Giant Puffballpaul beverage
By Paul Bratschi

Outside in the backyard Mom is hanging clothes on the clothesline and she calls to us,  “It’s mushroom hunting time!  I can feel it in the air!” She sets down her clothesbasket, steps into the garage, and puts on her mushroom hunting shirt, a tan corduroy rolled up at the sleeves.  She then gathers the saved bread bags and a jack-knife from the tin can by the back door. 

We all come following after her, as we head out across the meadow.  Sand burs grab at my socks and shoestrings.  The wind is blowing across the tall grass, bending it over, as if pointing us in the right direction.

Entering the woods, the path narrows and drops down to the creek.  The high water means there has been a good rain - the best time to go mushroom hunting.  As we wander along, eyes searching, Mom gives us the usual spiel.  “Hunting for mushrooms is not easy.  Mushrooms can be very tricky to find because they hide in out-of-the-way places where they won’t be found by people or animals that like to eat them. Remember, there are certain varieties that are very poisonous, so always let me know before you pick one.” 

I walk along the edge of the path and search deep into the woods, kicking away rocks, sticks, and leaves. “It takes time and a lot of patience to find a mushroom’s hiding spot, Paul.” Mom tells me. “Keep looking, I know we’ll find some.”

Farther on, I race my older sister, Ona, to the bridge that crosses over the creek.  But before I am there, I stop and remember the Tornado Tree.  I look up to try and find it.  It’s our favorite place to play in the woods – a tree that was knocked down several years ago during the big tornado that came through our town, and yet surprisingly continues to grow. 

“I think I see it.  Is that it?”  My sister Molly points over to a tree that is bent low to the ground like an old man hobbling along with his cane.  So low, that we can barely crawl under it. 

“Hey, there it is!” I holler to her as we race through the underbrush trying to be the first to climb up its long back.

Like a little deer mouse running through the woods, my youngest sister, Sara, moves easily between and under the thicket, and then quickly passes ahead of us.  Arriving at the tree, she laughs and yells back, “I’m the first!” 

We take turns climbing up the back of the Tornado Tree with our arms spread out pretending to balance on a high wire.  And as I climb, right up at the top where the trunk splits apart to form branches, I see a large odd shaped white object on the ground.  It’s about twelve inches in diameter; almost the same size as my bike helmet. I jump down to the ground to take a closer look.  “Mom!  Come here and see what I’ve found!” 

Mom hurries over to where I am squatting and peers underneath the tornado tree. “Oh my goodness, Paul!” she exclaims. “That’s the biggest Puffball mushroom I’ve ever seen!”  All three of my sisters and I gather around as Mom pulls out her jack-knife.  “It’s called a Giant Puffball.”  “What’s a Puffball?” Molly asks. 

“Well, Puffball mushrooms are a special type of mushroom, and when they’re old, they poof.” Then holding the puffball with both hands Mom motions for me to cut the mushroom away from its base in the ground.

I turn the blade on its side.  It flashes in the sunlight and blinds me for a moment.  When my eyes refocus, I carefully begin to slice back and forth through the soft, white flesh.  It is soft and easy to cut through.  The puffball loosens and I gently pick it up. It is not very heavy and has a nice smell like the ground after the rain falls.  Its smooth white skin is slightly peeled away.  I slowly turn it over.  Underneath, on its belly, is dark black dirt, which I carefully brush off with a stick. 

“Mom, what will we do with it?” asks Ona. 

“We’ll eat it for dinner,” she replies. “Do you want to help me cook it tonight?  It’s very simple to fry up in butter and tastes even better than Morels.”  “I’m not eating that thing!”  exclaims Sara.  I love Morels and can’t even imagine how good the puffball will taste.  I am eager to take the puffball home and show Dad what we found.  Even though he doesn’t like eating mushrooms, I bet he’ll be amazed!

On our walk back to the house, I cradle the Giant Puffball in my arms.  Mom tells us some more about Puffballs and other mushrooms like Morels, Inky Caps, Sulfer Shelf, and the deadly Amenita. “Each mushroom appears at its own time, in its own season, and in its own hiding place.”

That night we have a delicious Giant Puffball supper.  Mom and Ona cook it along with the rest of our meal.  My sisters and I eat two helpings.  Dad tries a bite of the Giant Puffball and we all smile as he takes another bite.  I can hardly wait for our next mushroom hunting adventure.