Sweet corn is one of the most commonly garden grown crops. Like most Midwesterners, we historically sorted the plump ears with unblemished husks from those “infested” with a fungus commonly known as “corn smut”.
But this year is different.
Sean Sherman, indigenous chef and author, has taught me to look at weeds, mushrooms and foraging in a different way. His book, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, seeks to resurrect meals based on native plants and animals, healthily enjoyed by native peoples for hundreds of years. Let’s not miss out on this special ingredient!
Known by Midwest farmers by the less desirable names “corn smut” or “devils corn”, this fungus imparts a sweet, earthy corn flavor to soups, stews and sautés that are especially delicious cooked with the corn itself. Mexican farmers call this huitlacoche (pronounced wheat-lah-KOH-chay), and often rejoice when they see it, knowing they can charge a higher price for their corn.
“Despite the fact that huitlacoche infects the corn, it actually significantly improves on the health benefits of corn. The fungus has notably more protein than healthy corn contains, and a far greater portion of lysine, an essential amino acid.”
-Brady Kopfer, Food Hacks
Furthermore, US culinary experts are catching on to their valuable flavor. Check out this 2015 story from NPR’s The Salt about how modern chefs serve this up in restaurants.
Our family planted three modest rows of sweet corn, harvesting it all a few days ago. But upon hearing about Glean For Good, Judy Ellis offered us as much corn as we could pick from a family farm. Explaining our new culinary exploration, I asked Judy to throw in any “corn smut” she found. The above photo shows her laughing, wondering if I’m actually serious.
Yesterday, my husband cautiously asked why my “science project” was not yet in the compost bin. He then assured me he would NOT be eating that. So I am taking my cue from the Lakota peoples in our region- delaying its use by drying it, to use as seasoning in soups and stews. That way, the picky eaters of my family can enjoy the flavor and health benefits without the dinnertime drama.
And good news if you’re in Minneapolis this coming weekend! This Friday, August 31st from 9-6pm, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Food Lab will be hosting cooking demonstrations and presentations at the Minnesota State Fair. They will have samples, special guests and their cookbook for sale.
If you can’t join him in person, listen to Sean Sherman the day before, on Thursday, August 30th. He will speak with Tom Crann of MPR at 10am. This show will be focused on the cross section of Native American cuisine, culture and mental health.
If you or a corn farmer you know can get your hands on fresh corn truffles, by all means use them. Then, let us know of any recipes or storage ideas worth sharing. Glean For Good promises to send you a blue ribbon for your efforts!