These are the “dog days” of summer, so named because the Dog Star, Sirius, rises with the sun each morning. These are the days of indolence, days when whole countries, like France, go on holiday. These are the days of sun tans, swimming pools, beaches, back yards, and barbecue. It is no wonder that the “powers that be” designated the first day of August as National Mustard Day. At this time of year, mustard is purchased by the gallon.
The pungent, peppery-flavored mustard plant grows over much of the world in warm and temperate climes. Many of the world’s cultures have ways to prepare and eat the mustard’s leaves and stems, but the truly powerful part of the plant is its seed.
|Every good cook keeps Coleman's|
dry mustard on hand.
It’s no great stretch of the imagination to picture one of our ancestors who had made something tasty out of other seeds, nuts being included in that group, thinking up some way to use the fiery little mustard seeds. She ground them up, mixed them with something on hand, and added them to the meal to add some zip. In really warm climates, hot, inexpensive condiments made from herbs like mustard could cover up the taste of meats that were not too fresh, shall we say.
|this image is from Wikipedia|
The ancient, original condiment we now call mustard was probably made basically as it is today: ground mustard seed in a liquid carrier. The permutations of mustard vary around the world. There are several regional types of mustard seed, basically, several colors: white, yellow, brown or black. The seeds are powdered, cracked, ground, smashed, mashed, and otherwise chewed up, and then combined with a carrier of one of several types of vinegar, or wine, beer, even Jack Daniels. To this mixture you can add spices and herbs, horseradish, honey, hot peppers, or whatever you think might enhance and differentiate the flavor of the mustard.
Mustard, a condiment in itself, is often an addition to other condiments and dressings. In some dressings such as honey-mustard, it is added as an emulsifier to keep the oil and vinegar mixed. It is often used in marinades, and, because of its many varieties, can be the really secret ingredient in barbecue sauces, especially here in the Carolinas. Mustard has found its way onto and into pretzels, into salads, even into stroganoffs and soups.
|Heinz, French's, even store brands of|
yellow mustard are the nation's favorite
Many modern mustard aficionados, preferring the more esoteric blends, turn up their noses at good old American yellow mustard. Ah, but the numbers have the last laugh because that good old American yellow mustard, which gets it color from turmeric, the mustard of the ball parks, barbecues, and many street-food vendors, tops them all in sales in this country.
With several types of mustard seeds, many ways to open them, several different carriers, and innumerable other ingredients to stir in to the mix, the end results number in the hundreds, even thousands. At state fairs and food fests, the competition can get fierce for the best mustard, whether homemade or commercially prepared. Entrants can only hope that their preparations come up to the judges’ expectations, that they “cut the mustard.”