Nothing wrong with a little smut

First off, thank you to all the readers who expressed concern with my suspect canning setup I wrote about last week.

My phone and inbox were filled with concerns for my safety, advice and a bit of good-natured ribbing.

Nadine, I bought a water bath canner from Graber’s. You were right. Only $26.

I put up another seven quarts of pickles earlier this night. My process is down to an hour and a half, and I spent a good amount of that time waiting on water to heat or do its boiling.

So, finishing in record time, I even had time to cook dinner instead of settling for munching on the leftover pulled pork Joey sent home with me this weekend.

On the menu: smut.

Tasty tasty corn smut.

Ag folks or gardeners might be familiar with the fungal infection of the corn ear.

All of the sudden, the ears shoot off spongey gray protrusions, indicating that the plant won’t produce corn but simply fungus.

When it would show up on the farm garden—usually in wet years, it seemed—Dad would cut out the corn stalk and throw it on the brush pile.

He once told me that American Indians had eaten it. Despite our “waste not” attitude, we never once ventured to try the alien-looking growths.

You eat with your eyes, and simply put, to our untrained eyes, it looked disgusting.

The Aztecs, who, come to find out, actually farmed it, felt the same way, calling it huitlacoche, which translates to raven poop.

It turns out to be a delicacy both in central Mexico and with some Native American tribes. Some people also call it corn truffle.

I only learned this after I saw an article on the Internet.

After reading about it, the next day, while working in my garden, I noticed one of my corn plants had the telltale fungal growth on an ear. I took it as a sign. I would try corn smut.

The problem with all this is I lacked a fungal guide, and I feel you always need a guide when eating strange fungus.

Foraging fungus wasn’t new to me. I do love morel mushrooms when I can find them or source them.

But with morels I had at least some teaching and cultural knowledge on their edibility and how to prepare them.

I knew how to spot the dangerous look-alikes, how to cook them and how to soak them, because they’re full of all these tiny bugs that live in their crevices.

With huitlacoche, wel,l I didn’t know what I had to watch out for. I didn’t want to rush and eat some, only to have the cat tell me an hour later I’d eaten the magic kind of corn smut.

Spoiler alert: there is no magic kind of corn smut.

So I asked my Facebook friends about it. Even the braver eaters were a bit sketched out.

Doing more research, I found a mycology group online and asked about the edible and learned that it was safe and there weren’t any dangerous look-alikes, as are common with morels.

Sam and I agreed to take the plunge and make them into a traditional quesadilla with peppers and cotija cheese, as many recipes advocated.

I’ll say it’s a unique taste and texture.

It’s like mixing a mushroom with corn. It has less chew than a regular mushroom, but there’s almost a meatiness to it. In short, it’s great.

When the Aztecs farmed it, they would make little cuts on the plants to infect them, resulting in the fungus.

All of my corn smut has grown on corn that I planted in between my cucumbers and squash.

As the vines climbed, they scratched the leaves, which in turn resulted in the infection.

It’s all been a welcome surprise. My actual non-infected ears aren’t very sweet and pretty starchy.

I don’t know if it’s the ground or variety I planted, but it reminds me of field corn.

So now I go out every morning and hope I catch glimpse of some smut.

If I do I bring it inside, I put it in a Ziplock and cook it that night or the day after.

You probably won’t ever see it in Lindsey’s cooking column or an extension office gardening guide, but trust me.

You’ll like it better than the corn it grows on once you try it.

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