The summer rains have come to Mexico, and they are bringing life wriggling up from dry ground. There are signs “Maguey Worms in Season!” and fresh corn fungus displayed front and center in the Sunday produce markets.
I have been surprised that Central Mexico’s summer hasn’t been hotter. While there are days of heat, in general it has been cooler than spring, and you can count on rain most afternoons. Though I have been griping about all the drizzly evenings, I am happy for the benefits to the soggy weather.
I’ve yet to go out for sauteed worms — I will get to it — but right now, I’m enjoying the bulbous ears of infected corn.
Huitlacoche is often described in English as corn mushroom, or corn fungus. Some have tried to raise its profile by calling it Mexican Truffle. These are misleading, not because of the culinary value, but because it makes you think of something that grows independently on the cob. Instead, huitlacoche is a spore that grows within the individual kernels, distending them, and disfiguring the ear.
Uncooked, they taste a bit earthy, gritty, and raw. You find them in quesadillas, sweetened with a good amount of onion, and spiced with epazote, a strong herb that flavors quesadillas and is popular in black beans as well. The picture above is my version of a quesadilla. What I learned was how strong they taste on their own — they need a good amount of onion and salt to cut their earthy, bitter taste.
Most roadside stand serve huitlacoche as almost a paste, and restaurants serve it usually as a drizzled sauce, liquefied beyond recognition. I much prefer the little bulbs entire in the quesadilla. They pop in your mouth and really hit you with their flavor.
Huitlacoche is also known as corn smut, an affliction for American fields as well. The big difference is that in the U.S. it is thrown out — and fought against. In Mexico, a single piece of corn commands three or four dollars, a good markup from the average “unspoilt” ear.