Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I really enjoy finding "free" food. I planted Jerusalem artichokes in the chicken yard so that the chickens would have shade and a hiding place from hawks. Now I enjoy eating the artichoke tubers. Or, I enjoy getting black walnuts from the woods to the table, even though it's a challenge to remove the outer cover, crack through the tough shell and attempt to separate nut from shell. The latest free-food discovery is the whitish stuff that blooms from the tops of some corn cobs in the garden. It has the unflattering name of "corn smut," and I am delighted to report that it is a gourmet's delight.
Wait a minute--corn smut edible? This suggestion at first sounded like a practical joke, but when I saw my visiting daughter's eyes light up at the possibility of finding it in our garden, I gave it a chance. She is an archeologist who works summers in the Yucatan, and she swears that Mexican people consider it a delicacy. They even buy it in cans. I've never successfully grown or harvested mushrooms, so this is my chance.
First of all, Mexicans don't call it "corn smut." In Mayan, it's known as "cuitlachoche," or "huitlacoche." To change our attitude, we'll need a different name than "corn smut," and maize mushroom seems sufficiently enticing. Next, we need to see it with new eyes. Long before it turns black, look at the corn kernels expanding and blanching. Like enlarging garlic cloves, they push through the husk and become apparent on the end of the cobs. Yummy--it's harvest time!
The fungal part of the corn can be cut into the size of mushroom you want to use. Sometimes the fungus takes over part of the cob itself, so I add that in. I cook it with olive oil and garlic, and then add other vegetables from the garden. See the recipes, below.
I've even gone so far as to order the Silver Queen variety of corn becuase the seed catalog (Fedco) said it was good for cuitlacoche. Last summer, however, our Spring Treat corn out-performed others in this regard. A nearby farmer annually grows a few acres of sweet corn and invites the neighbors to partake. My husband and I incite much speculation as we choose cobs laden with corn smut. We won't let pride keep us from this delicacy!
Our change in perspective now makes it fun to anticipate the harvest as we see the end kernels of a cob begin to swell through the husk. And, I admit to feeling pretty smug about getting another variety of food on the table with just a shift of attitude and no aditional work.
RECIPES WITH MAIZE MUSHROOM
Garlic: crushed or diced
Maize mushrooms: diced
Zucchini: cut in 1/2" cubes
Corn: cut from cobs (or use hominy for additional "south of the border" taste)
Other vegetables from garden when available
Seasoning: salt and chipotle canned peppers or sauce (for smoky flavor and some heat)
Directions: Heat oil, add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for a short time before adding other vegetables. Cook all until just tender to fork. Season about five minutes before done.
Add variety by using soy sauce instead of peppers when serving with rice, or stew above with tomatoes and serve over pasta.