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February 6, 2009 - Kathie Evanoff
I made mustard once. It wasn’t as glamorous as growing my own mustard seed, but don’t think I haven’t entertained the thought. Several years ago, while visiting my favorite herb farm, Lily of the Valley, near Alliance, I found a packet of mustard seeds packaged with a lovely little white ceramic jar, a small ceramic spoon and directions for making my own spicy brown mustard. It’s been a while, but if I remember correctly, the mustard-making process involved mixing the seeds with water and letting them set a while to soften and burst, allowing the oils from the seeds to mingle and thicken the water. I believe vinegar may have been involved as well. I do remember that the mustard was very good, spicy and a bit grainy. Mustard pots have been around a very long time. Antique collections of mustard pots aren’t uncommon and even today in some areas of Europe, stores will sell mustard pots that, like the coffee mugs from Sheetz, you buy the container and take it back to buy refills. I would love to be able to keep a cute terra-cotta crock of freshly-made mustard in my refrigerator and when it was empty, simply take my crock back to the store and have it refilled. But then, I am fond of garden cloches (bell jars) and other old-fashioned accouterments of the home. I’m also in favor of less waste, which means there wouldn’t be anymore plastic mustard bottles in the landfills. It’s a nice thought, but unlikely to happen. Mustard is related to the brassicas (Cruciferae), which include cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and turnips. The types of seeds we enjoy are mild white mustard (Brassica hirta), and from which we get our common yellow, ballpark-style and ground mustard; black mustard seeds (Brassica nigra) are used in Dijon-style mustard and can vary from very mild to hot; and brown mustard (Brassica juncea), which is more pungent than the white but not as spicy as the black. is used to create Bordeaux and German mustards. White mustard is grown in the Middle East and Africa, but the U.S. is quite adept at producing brown and black mustards. Most mustard in North America is grown in Canada. Wild mustard, an invasive weed, is from the same family of plants, but is a different variety, Synapis arvensis. The leaves of the mustard plant are eaten raw when they are still young and tender. If you want to try to make your own mustard, let the plant go to seed and harvest just before the pods burst open after the leaves begin to turn yellow. Growing mustard seed reminds me of coriander. Coriander is the seed from the plant we call cilantro. We use the leaves in Tex-Mex food, such as tacos and burritos or to sprinkle like parsley on top of a huge plate of nachos and cheese. But once the plant flowers, which can be quite a show when grown in large masses, the leaves taste bitter. The flowers quickly fade and fall, leaving seed pods behind that produce hundreds of coriander spice, most commonly used in baking, but also in meat dishes and marinades. I’ve grown cilantro and collected coriander seeds, but mustard is tempting. Mustard is virtually calorie free and adds so much flavor to food, it should never be left out of our recipes. Replacing the mayonnaise for mustard in our sandwiches not only gives it much more flavor, but is a healthier choice as well. Mustard also goes well with meat, eggs and potatoes as well as homemade low-fat and fat-free salad dressings.
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