A Smutty Story (G-Rated)
Imagine the scene on a hot summer’s day, walking in the shadow of high corn stalks.
You see it a few feet away.
Among all the beautifully formed ears of corn is the misshapen one with odd dark stuff bursting like a brain emerging where little kernels should be.
For certain farms in Mexico, this is a fairly common occurrence, because they have inoculated their corn crop with huitlacoche
(wheat-lah-coach’-ee), also known as corn smut, an expensive delicacy with wonderful flavor and texture. If harvested in time when the infected kernels have just started to bubble up, it has the texture and taste of mushroom-flavored corn.
But corn smut is the bane of American farmers.
This fungus attacks the ears and, if not removed, develops into pods of spores which burst and infect all of its neighbors in the field, effectively starting a chain reaction which can ruin an entire crop. This nuisance will even stay in the earth to hit next year’s planting.
Not surprisingly, no one wants this airborne pest cultivated in the farm next door, or even down the road. An infected ear is something farmers need to get rid of, and fast.
To obtain some huitlacoche, you can hop a plane to Mexico and may find it fresh in the market. The easier ways are to find a good Mexican restaurant, or in a can in a Latino grocery.
But the most fun is to stumble upon it accidentally in a farmer’s field. Once upon a time, there was a you-pick-it farm in New Jersey where customers could walk the cornfields.
What a delight it was to stumble upon huitlacoche. And the farmer was even more thrilled to see it being toted away, for free, of course.
And even more fun came later in the kitchen, as the kernels found their way to a sizzling saucepan to sauté, and then be folded inside quesadillas. They make a mighty delicious omelet filling, too.
What nice dividends for doing the farmer a favor and performing a public service for all of her neighbors!
My guess is that when you ask the waiter at Rosa Mexicano, “What is huitlacoche?” the answer will be something other than “corn smut.”
Great story! When I lived in S. Calif, Diane Kennedy cooked it at a gathering. It was weird looking stuff but oh, so delicious! Of course, she has the magic touch!