At the Market Square Farmer’s Market Saturday, the guys from Huff Family Farm in Blount County brought Daniel and I a half dozen ears of white corn infected with corn smut – Ustilago maydis. We had been looking for some so Daniel, Tootsie Truck, could show me the authentic Mexican way to prepare it. The Spanish word for the corn smut is cuitlacohce (wheat-la-co-chay) or huitlacoche. By the way, this is a new logo/paint job for the Tootsie. Pretty cool Rebecca and Daniel. You can find them on Facebook
Apparently, there is something about pairing a melting cheese with the cuitlacoche that is wonderful enough it to be called the “Mexican truffle” in the old country. Today, however, Daniel sautéed the tumors of corn smut and served hem on a smooth cheese grits. Great combo!! I love it.
When smut tumors burst (like in the second picture) to release teliospores, edibility is over.
Here are two great resources if you are interested in learning more. The American Phytopathology Society has an excellent web page on Ustilago maydis describing its biology. If the language is too esoteric at times, don’t despair, scroll to the end and you’ll get some vernacular conversation about the edibility.
Tradd Cotter at Mushroom Mountain in South Carolina has been working a process to inoculate your own corn and grow this great fungus for eating. For corn farmers it can be devastating to find in your field, but a backyard patch might be acceptable. Here is a quote from NPR.:
“At Mushroom Mountain farm in Easley, S.C., mycologist Tradd Cotter has a 42,000-square-foot mushroom production facility. He is now growing huitlacoche on several varieties of corn, including Brock’s favored White Bolita. “Years ago I found one black, dry kernel of corn in an old warehouse at Clemson University, ground it up and injected a solution into every ear of Silver Queen heirloom corn, a variety susceptible to the fungus, growing at my house,” he says. “Within two weeks, we had our huitlacoche and we ate it all.”
Cotter plans to produce and stock a pure liquid inoculum that farmers can buy —just as beer brewers buy yeast. He notes that huitlacoche must be picked when firm but spongy, sort of like a foamy popcorn, before it starts to degrade and turn sooty black. If harvested too late, it’s not only far less tasty, but can loft clouds of black fungal spores into the air, which might infect the entire crop, as well as neighboring cornfields.”
Lastly, if you just want to rty some, you can buy cans on-line. Both Goya and Herdez market this great fungus.