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Archive for July, 2010

Half the fun of cooking huitlacoche–known to some as the “Mexican truffle”–is being able to tell people what you had for dinner.

“I had seconds on the smut last night, it was so good.”

Or, to your kids, “You’re late for supper. But we saved you a slice of fungus.”

But that’s only half the fun. The other half is in discovering a pretty decent new food item in something you previously threw out.

Corn fungus, like purslane, has long been looked upon by European/American farmers as a scourge to be eradicated. But we found last night that it’s actually pretty good in a quesadilla. We’ll definitely have it again, if we ever get another of those freakishly deformed looking ears.

The gray fungus that grows in place of normal kernels looks like mushrooms but doesn’t much taste like them. It’s much more mild. In fact it tastes a little like it looks. Ashy.

I tried a little of it uncooked, and I have to say cooking smooths out its flavor. You wouldn’t want too many other strong flavors with it, either, because they would easily overwhelm.

My one fungus-covered ear was just about the right amount to make a large quesadilla.  Here’s what I did:

Start with this

First remove the husks and silks and rinse the ear. Then cut down the length of the cob to remove the fungus. It should come off easily. Get a little of the good kernels too, while you’re at it. Mince and set aside.

Next, cut into small dice

About 1/2 cup onions

One sweet pepper (I used a green and red Italian frying pepper)

One small hot pepper, seeds and membrane removed (half a pepper, if it’s an extremely hot variety).

Also remove kernels from another two or three ears of corn, until you have about a cup.

Grate some mild white cheese of your choice. I used Monterey jack–about a cup.

Pick, wash and chop a little cilantro.

When everything is prepared, heat a little oil in a skillet and fry the peppers and onions first, until soft but not brown, adding salt and ground cumin to taste.

Then add the normal corn kernels and cook for a few minutes, until cooked through. Add the fungus and cook until softened, like mushrooms.

At this point, adjust for seasoning. Bring heat down to low.

Heat up another skillet and put in a little oil to coat. When the skillet is hot put down a flour tortilla, and spoon some filling over the tortilla. This recipe will make one big quesadilla or a couple of small ones, depending on tortilla size.

Top with cheese and cilantro, then cover with second tortilla. Spray the top with cooking oil spray (or brush some on).

After a few minutes, the bottom should be brown. With a big spatula, flip the whole works over in the pan so the second tortilla is on top. Cook until the second side is brown, then remove from the pan, cut into wedges and serve.

It was great. And no one ever missed the meat.

Posted by: Roxie

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The Thing

Hideous, isn’t it?

This monstrosity greeted Mike when he checked in on our corn patch the other day.

Let me just interject here that the patch, on the whole, is doing very well.  We’ve had a couple of corn feasts so far, with only minimal trouble from storm-downed stalks and ear worms.

But every so often, you run into one of these–freaks that cause you to jerk back your hand in alarm.

Of course we’ve seen it before. When I was detassling back in the day, farmer’s were very keen to have us report this and all manner of slimy rots that might cause them to lose money.

So when we’ve picked corn like this in past gardens, our reaction was always to throw it out (after first calling in the boys for a gross-out session).

But this year will be different. Tonight I’ll be cooking up some of this fine fungus and serving it in quesadillas, because I’ve heard that it is supposed to be really quite good.

It’s called huitlacoche (wee-tlah-KHO-cheh) and is a favorite in Mexico, where it’s considered a delicacy.  In fact, a canned version of this stuff goes for about $7 an ounce on Amazon.

Huitlacoche has a bit of a PR problem with its bizarre looks, but apparently it’s been prized for years by native tribes of Mexico. The Zuni used to call it “corn soot” and they thought it symbolized the generation of life. The Aztecs also were fond of it. They called it…let’s see, what did they call it now?…oh yes, they called it “raven’s excrement.” But I’m sure they meant that in the nicest possible way.

American names for it are less charitable: Smut and Devil’s Corn. I’m sure my former employers at Garst & Thomas would agree.

And, interestingly, it was once called “Mexican truffle” on a menu at the James Beard House in 1989.

All in the branding, as they say.

Anyway, tonight I’ll be cutting it from its cob, chopping it up and frying with some garden onion, hot pepper, corn, cilantro and white cheese for quesadillas.  I’ll get back to you on how it goes.

Posted by: Roxie

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You call it corn, but here at the vegetable paradise, we call it simply a-maze-ing.

In record time, the sweet corn I planted on May 17 has grown tall, tasseled and produced a bounty of slender ears — two per stalk — on the 20’x20′ patch we tend at the community garden near our home.

Regular readers of the blog, or those who’ve read our book, know that we gave up growing corn at our home garden several years ago. The squirrels and birds always got to eat it before we got it picked.

But when the community garden space became available two months ago, we figured we’d try again.

Wow.

The silks are turning brown, the kernels swelling. By the looks of the test ear I plucked this morning, we are just a day or two away from harvest, Roxie says.

Looks like we’ll have more than enough fresh corn to eat this summer, and plenty for the freezer, as well.

So what’s amazing about that? Check out this math:

The maturity date is supposed to be 90 days for our variety, an old favorite known as silver queen, according to the seed packets and Kansas State University extension.

But here we are just 63 days after planting, July 20, and we’re almost ready to pick.

What’s up with that?  Can’t have been the seed or the seed company. I bought two different brands of the same variety and planted them on two separate days under nearly identical conditions.

Couldn’t have been the fertilizer. I didn’t apply any, and it’s not like the soil was in all that great shape. Until this spring it was a weed patch — crabgrass mostly.

Today I called the Master Gardener’s hotline to see if one of the experts manning the phones  in Olathe might have a theory. Nope. They were stumped, too.

About all anyone can figure is that the weather  in Kansas City has been ideal for corn this summer.

It’s been hot, but not scorching. Except for a week or so in mid June, we’ve gotten plenty of moisture. In other words, perfect conditions for sweet corn.

Had June been as cool as it was the last couple of years, maybe the corn wouldn’t have taken off the way it did. Only a few stalks were even close to knee high on June. 12.

Exactly 30 days later, was over my head.

Now if we can just harvest all those ears before the deer, raccoons and other varmints (human included) discover the mother lode and make off with it.

Posted by: Mike

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Vacation’s over

Yes, you can take a family trip during the height of garden season.

No, it will not be pretty when you get back.

Having missed any vacations of consequence for the past three years, we decided that this would be the year for a long trip. And because of our daughter’s various school and sports committments, the only time to take it was the latter part of June.

Gardeners around here will recognize that as the prime time for broccoli, cauliflower and green beans–three of our own top crops that I worried we’d have to miss this year.

In a perfect world, we would have made trip plans and reservations in January, then planted accordingly. But somehow, we always end up living closer to the edge than that. We didn’t make the final decision to buy the plane tickets until about a month and a half before leaving. Result: We paid the garden price.

Let me count the ways:

1.Weeds. Of course the weeds took over immediately. Mike pulled out wheelbarrows full of them when he arrived back a week before me.

2.Marauding pumpkins. I planted one hill of Halloween pumpkins. To my horror, they’d overrun their area and are now shading out my precious cukes. Worse, I can’t get the cucumbers up on trellises because of the pumpkins (trellises were one of the things we didn’t get done before the trip). Now I have to hunt and hunt for them on the ground amongst the leaves.

3.Green beans, broccoli and cauliflower. Yes, they all came due during our trip. But we were lucky in that our son, who house sat, also agreed to pick and freeze some of them. And I also planted a row of very late green beans, once I realized we’d be gone. So the loss was minimal. And thanks, Pete.

Now that all the emergency garden chores have been done, we can breathe a little easier around here. Apparently it rained while we were out, so everything still looks pretty nice.

We’ll have more updates soon, but in the meantime, we’ve been enjoying some of the designer-colored vegs we planted. Here’s a purple cauliflower that was ready just a couple of days ago. It made a great raw salad, with bacon, mayonnaise/yogurt dressing and dried cranberries.

Posted by: Roxie

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