Columns

2018.04.25 Old: When Fayette was into smut

More than once I have reminded former Fayette mayor Ruth Marlatt about this incident from 20 years ago. It was a memorable night.

By DAVID GREEN

Yep, you read that headline correctly. I heard it last Thursday night at the Fayette Village Council meeting.

It happened during that 7:30 lull when there weren’t yet enough councilors to call a meeting. They could have all gone home and tried again in a couple of weeks, but the village manager had important business on the agenda, so he was off to the telephone to round up another member or two.

He was successful in pulling someone else in—a person with some personal business through his job, but if he was really needed, he would come be there.

And that’s about the time mayor Ruth Marlatt started talking about peddling smut. Corn smut, that is. She saw a television show a while back about the use of corn smut as a truffle substitution. She said it was worth a lot more than the corn.

Actually, she wasn’t sure if it was smut, but she knew it was a corn fungus, and what else but smut would serve as a truffle substitute?

We aren’t talking about chocolate truffles here. It’s the fungus that’s of interest, the one covered with tiny warts that sells for hundreds of dollars per pound. I found a company on the Internet that sells truffles imported from France for $480 a pound, then I came across a bargain-basement source that sells for $320.

France produces about 20 tons of truffles a year. We’ll skip the fructification process (“the modification of the arrangement of the myceliens filaments which will gather together in a special structure with a cellular appearance) and move right on to the intoxicating odor.

Sow pigs are often used to locate truffles because the aroma is a steroid similar to the pheromone produced by boars in pre-mating behavior. Truffle collectors let the ladies find the thing, then they fight with them over who gets to eat it.

Some collectors use the “avec la mouche” method, which is to say: look for the swarming flies.

I couldn’t find any connection between corn smut and the real European truffle, but Fayette farmers might peddle their smut in the southwest.

Forget the sour cream and iceberg lettuce. For real Mexican food, you need corn smut. If that doesn’t sound appealing, call it maize mushroom or corn truffle. If it still doesn’t sound appetizing, the following won’t help either.

Cuitacoche (whee-tlat-KOH-cheh) was prized by the Aztecs. According to my sources, “cuitlatl” means excrement and “chochi” means black in the Nahuatl language.

It’s said to have a smoky-sweet flavor that’s a cross between corn and mushroom, and it’s often included in soups, casseroles and sautés.

Maize mushroom might become the commercial name. After all, in 1993, a Small Business Innovation Research grant of $50,000 was awarded to El Aficionado, Ltd., of Arlington, Va. The grant was made for “the development of corn smut as a cash crop.” Forget the corn; save the smut.

Remember: Don’t wait until the smut is old, dried and powdery. Use fresh smut when it appears as pearly gray globules and ovoids. There might be some black spores in the fresh stuff, also, but that’s all right.

Caution: Mexican truffle might cause uterine contractions in pregnant women if the stuff is old and decayed. That goes along with what Ruth heard: something about possibly causing fetuses to abort.

She’s just doing her job, Ruth said with a smile, trying her best to promote economic development in the area. But what a way to go down in the history of Fayette. She was the mayor who advocated smut.