Tag Archives: corn smut

guy’s newsletter: awash with vegetables & smutty corn

We are awash with vegetables; I can hardly remember being surrounded by such bounty and quality in the fields, barns and boxes. We’ve wonderful cos lettuce that Mr McGregor could only have dreamed of, great tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers from the tunnels, the sweetest carrots, sound onions and tasty charlotte potatoes. It has been a near perfect season so far and confidence is returning in the fields, almost enough to make me want to plant more soft fruit; but the memories of the 2012 deluge have not quite faded.

There was a growing drought worry with levels dropping in our irrigation reservoirs and soil moisture near exhausted, but over the last few days we have had over an inch of rain with more forecast this week; just what all those young cauliflowers, leeks, cabbages and broccoli need to help get their roots to the moisture deeper in the soil. With days already drawing in and dews getting heavier, I reckon we are safe. The rain has even drowned most of the flea beetles that have been plaguing us all summer. Without wishing to court disaster, it has been a near perfect year to be a veg grower. All we need now is for you to eat more.

Further south, on our French farm, up to half the early sweetcorn has developed the fungal galls of corn smut, as described last week. It is also known as ‘corn truffle’ or ‘huitlacoche’ in Mexico, where it is considered a delicacy and is sought-after to fill quesadillas. After much research and experimentation including an evening cooking with a chef from Wahaca, I reckon the more adventurous among you might like to give it a go. It is hard to describe the flavour of the spore-filled galls as they are unique; they cook down to a black paste reminiscent of squid ink, and have an earthy bitterness which I love. Great with refried beans, guacamole, tomatillo salsa and corn tortillas. As I write, we are working out a huitlacoche meal kit and recipes which should also be on the website over the next two or three weeks. All being well, you might be able to eat Riverford huitlacoche at Wahaca restaurants this autumn too.

Guy Watson

guy’s newsletter: smut & wacky veg from the vendée

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I am on our farm in France, where we are picking the best crop of sweetcorn I have ever grown; 30,000 cobs to the hectare which are so plump and sweet you can eat them raw. Walking through the crop, my spirits rose to giddy heights until I reached the field next door, where 70% of the cobs are grotesquely deformed with galls of the soil-borne fungal pathogen, smut.

guy corn smut landscape

Guy with sweetcorn affected by ‘corn smut’ or huitlacoche as it is known in Mexico (where they consider it a delicacy).

With the majority of crops from this farm designed to plug the spring ‘hungry gap’ back home, our busiest time here is past and we have sown green manures to replenish the soil, ready for next year. The fertility building mixture of clover, oats and phacelia has germinated well but ironically so has a flush of exceedingly healthy summer purslane; a succulent weed I have previously cultivated as a salad crop in the UK, with mixed success. Meanwhile we will start hand picking our beautiful red-flecked borlotti beans next week. Harvested immature in the pods as ‘demi-sec’, they require much less cooking and retain more flavour than a dried bean and can be used in stews, but are best appreciated in a salad. Don’t be put off if the pods look tatty, the beans are beautiful inside, as many an Italian will tell you.

Since buying the farm here I have developed a passion for growing, eating, bottling and drying chillies; like our sweetcorn they love the dry heat of a Vendéen summer. We have grown different varieties for tapas, stuffing, drying and pickling which include padrons, pablanos, Joe’s long, jalapenos, plus a few devastatingly hot scotch bonnets and habaneros for the deranged chilli nuts among you. Most will be available (along with instructions for preserving) to add to your order over the next two months. We are also busy picking tomatillos for you to make salsa verde, and starting on the cape gooseberries. A few of you might think this sounds all too esoteric and are wondering where the potatoes and carrots are; just count yourself lucky there is no smutty corn in your box.

corn smut close up

In Mexico it is considered a delicacy and they charge more for it. Maybe we need to develop a recipe for smut galls with summer purslane.

Guy Watson