Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mexican truffles.

I planted Japanese Popping Corn this year. I planted it late (due to the move and the fact that I didn't want it to cross-pollinate with the neighboring farm's field corn) and hoped it would fruit before our first freeze (it's a short season variety). It's between seven and eight feet tall right now. Our usual 'first freeze' is around September 15. We haven't had one yet, but I'm keeping an eye on the weather.

The fascinating thing about this corn for Hannah is the colors of the silk. Tawny brown.

Deep magenta.


Purple on some, a light pink on others.

And some bi-colored silks, purple and white.

I'm pretty fascinated by them, myself.

Then Hannah noticed something strange - a white glob on an ear. We pulled it off, shucked the ear and looked at it.

Gross. A severely deformed ear of corn.

We started a serious scientific investigation. We noted how many ears were infected (only three), which stalks they were on (all stalks damaged when a neighbor's steer got into my corn patch), and whether normal looking ears were also infected (they weren't).

We were feeling very proud of ourselves when my husband came over to look at it. One glance and he said "Oh, that's smut." Well then.

It's a fungus that "replaces the normal kernels of the cobs with large distorted tumors analogous to mushrooms". While we think of it as a horrid, nasty thing, in other cultures these cobs are considered a delicacy that "when cooked, have a flavor described as mushroom-like, sweet, savory, woody, and earthy". Yummy? Some cooks have called it 'Mexican truffles' in an effort to introduce it into high-end American restaurants. Hasn't succeeded thus far.

The Aztec purposely innoculated their corn by cutting the stalk to allow easier entry for the spores, which explains why the only stalks with the fungus were the ones that had been damaged by the steers. (The fungus was more valuable than corn for some tribes and even used by some Native Americans to induce labor.)

I didn't have the guts - or the desire - to cook it up, so we just tossed it.


Denise said...

Wonderful series of photographs.

chook said...

ugh. my dad said people eat these, but i have my doubts about their toothsomeness. they seem kind of gross. of course, i find most fungus kind of gross, so what do i know?

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Two "smut" posts in one week! What about this being a family blog??? ;)

Sarah said...

Lol, Nita. I know, I know! Shame on me. I shouldn't have deflowered my blog. Back to flowers!

Darroch Cottage said...

oh go on! I dare you!