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PUFFBALL MAY MUSHROOM ITSELF TO A RECORD

Puffballs are usually easy questions lobbed at politicians.

Pity the pol that gets hit with the puffball Wendy Ellis picked in an apple grove near her home in the Chautauqua County town of Cherry Creek.

This mushroom is bigger than a bowling ball. It weighs a whopping 3.84 pounds. It's 39 1/2 inches around.

"It barely fit into one of the double stainless sinks in my kitchen," she said.

Puffballs usually grow to the size of a softball, but this thing looks like a softball on steroids.

It's so big it may have grown into the Guinness Book of Records.

"My dad is 80, and he'd never seen a puffball that big," Mrs. Ellis said. "My sister, in Ann Arbor, Mich. says the paper there wants to see a picture, and the Guinness people want a photo, too. They don't have giant puffballs in their record book -- yet. They say I should know if it's been accepted in a month or two."

Mrs. Ellis had been picking puffballs for days, she said. The puffball -- easy to identify as a "safe" fungus because no other mushroom grows that large, round size -- typically is harvested when it reaches the size of a regulation softball.

Wild mushroom gatherers collect most of their crop from August through September. That's when Mrs. Ellis picks them.

"I pick puffballs from the old apple grove where we picnic and camp out and gather pink morels from the yard. The morels come up over night -- I harvested 75 of them the other day. The morels look like little white golf balls, and when you pull off the stem you see the pink gills. If you let them grow they get that sort of wavy-looking cap."

"Those are the only two species my dad, Leonard Fox, taught me and both are delicious. The puffball especially so."

"They taste like something between a steak and an egg. I peel the skin, slice them 1/2 -inch thick, dip in egg and fry in butter. I fry them like little steaks . . . well these were big steaks."

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