By JAY REED
I didn’t start out as much of a mustard guy.
In my formative years, I set my condiment aisle boundaries at ketchup and mayo. Not even mayo, really — we were a store brand Miracle Whip family — but that’s another story for another day.
Burgers were dressed with ketchup and mayo. Hot dogs were dressed with ketchup and mayo. Corn dogs, classically combined with mustard, faced only ketchup on my plate. Turkey sandwiches — mayo only. I didn’t categorically reject mustard-laced foods, but I went to great lengths to avoid them.
This was especially difficult at McDonald’s. Back in the day, perhaps even before Happy Meals, the McFood that was McOrdered for me was normally the plain burger, which came with bun, meat, chopped onions, and mustard. They may still do it that way — it’s been a long time since I’ve ordered a plain burger there. McDonald’s did not advertise that I could “have it my way,” but once in a while they would fix me one without the mustard and onions. (What six-year old likes chopped onions, anyway? Good grief.)
Mustard just ruined it for me, in pretty much any sandwich situation. Not even the clever Grey Poupon commercials were enough to sway me.
As I matured, I suppose I got less finicky and could tolerate the bright-yellow sour paste a little easier, but it was still not my go-to condiment. Then I met Greg One. Greg One was the first (thus the moniker) of two Gregs that I worked with in Asheville, N.C. in my earliest days as a friendly, neighborhood pharmacist.
Both Gregs were great pharmacy mentors, and on occasion also served as culinary advisors.
Greg Two, as it happened, was a true Carolina boy. He told me where to find the best barbecue in Shelby and introduced me to the joy of putting peanuts in my Pepsi. (Yes, that’s how it is done in North Carolina — if you prefer them in your Coke that is just fine — I’m not trying to convert anybody).
Greg One was of Polish lineage and hailed from Cleveland, Ohio, a big Indians fan. Out of his experiences at that particular stadium, he introduced me to Stadium Mustard. I was skeptical at first, but with a little encouragement and the free bottle he brought me, I began to try it primarily on stadium-friendly foods, most bearing the suffix “dog.” And I’ll be doggoned if it wasn’t good. Who knew? (Everybody in Cleveland, I guess). In the end, Stadium Mustard was a good introduction. It was more in the brown family of mustards, with a completely different edge than the traditional bright yellow varieties I was accustomed to. The mustard door was now open.
At this point I pretty quickly became a changed man. Mustard became a staple in my refrigerator door. Honey mustard began to appear in just about every restaurant not just as my favorite salad dressing but also as a sandwich topping and dipping sauce. I tried Dijon flavors, I bought grainy brown varieties and these days they often appear as emulsifiers in my vinaigrettes. I even remember the crossover product: Dijonnaise. My search for new and exciting mustards knows no bounds.
Not too terribly long ago, I was watching a competition show on Food Network (I think it was The Next Iron Chef) and a mustard issue came up. One of the contestants created a dish that needed mustard, and in his haste to beat the clock, used a jarred commercial variety. His dish turned out okay, but he got a little scolding from the judges for not making his own mustard on the spot. As is so often the case in life, once homemade mustard had been brought to my attention I began to notice mentions of it being made on a much more regular basis. One podcast in particular dedicated a segment to it and provided a recipe. Now, I had a new challenge.
I guess I assumed it would be hard, but the only ingredient I didn’t already have in my pantry was the mustard seed itself. That was easy to fix. As I learned, the basic ingredients for homemade mustard are mustard seed, mustard powder, and some sort of liquid – usually vinegar, wine, or verjus (the juice of unripened grapes, which I’m sure most of us keep in our pantries for just such occasions, right?) Beyond that, all the other ingredients in the recipes I checked out were just there for flavor or texture variations. No wonder the Iron Chef Wannabe got shamed — this was easy.
Now that I have done a little digging into the subject, I realize I have waited way too long to become a fan. According to http://www.thenibble.com , King Tut carried a goodly supply of mustard seed to the great beyond (or at least into his tomb), Jesus used it as an illustration in the New Testament and Victoria appointed an official mustard-maker to the queen. Pope John XXII was such a fan that he created the position, Grand Mustard-Maker to the Pope, giving the job to a nephew near Dijon, France. Later in Dijon, two fellows named Grey and Poupon got together and eventually made advertising history. Greeks and Romans used it as both food and medicine. Apparently, it was useful in treating war wounds and scorpion stings when applied as a paste, and today we know it contains essential minerals and cancer-fighting compounds.
Kids, eat your mustard.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .