Jane Hale (Courtesy Photo)

Jane Hale (Courtesy Photo)

Coming Out: Making mustard

Pardon my caps, but I LOVE THAT STUFF.

After a month on estrogen therapy, I experienced a development that a little post-hoc reasoning leads me to attribute to my body’s new balance of hormones.

I developed a craving. For mustard, of all things.

I’ve always liked mustard as a condiment, sure, but I am done with condimentarianism now.. I have become an anticondimentarianist. Skip the hot dog, skip the liverwurst, skip the Mustard Delivery Systems altogether. Go right for the gusto.

Spoon in hand, I open the fridge, reach for the jar, and take a serious dollop. Sometimes grabbing a spoon is too much trouble, so I just go in for a nice fingerful. Or two.

And not just any mustard. No French’s or Guilden’s for this girl or guy or whatever the hell you want to call me. I need seriously good mustard. Even Grey Poupon doesn’t cut it.

So far, the only mustard I’ve found that does the trick is the Dijon mustard made by Maille and imported from France.

Pardon my caps, but I LOVE THAT STUFF.

In France, Maille markets what looks like the same stuff we get here in Safeway or Superb Ear (that’s what my phone’s autocorrect calls it)— same bottle, same label. But what’s inside is not the same stuff at all. More potent. More better.

I decided to try making my own homemade mustard, a mustard that would give my head that same centrifugal rush as the French stuff.

Now, I know you hate those online websites that make you scroll through endless paragraphs of inane prose to reach the recipe. So before you get on your Xtratufs to wade through my own inane prose, here’s my recipe for homemade mustard.


— Brown mustard seeds. I get mine from Harbor Tea & Spice here in town.

— Dry white wine. I use Martin Codax, an albariño often on sale at Costco (and incidentally, also the name of a 13th-century Spanish troubadour, so put some medieval motets on the stereo and pour yourself a glass to sip while you grind).

— White vinegar.

— Sugar, maybe.

First you soak the seeds for at least two hours to soften them up. The recipes I’ve seen all call for soaking in water, but I try to get a head start by soaking them in the wine. Once the seeds soften up, you can start grinding.

Then you grind and grind and grind (this is when the albariño and motets come in handy).

I had to buy a bigger mortar and pestle to keep from making a complete mess with seeds and mustardy bits all over. Keep grinding until you get all that deep yellow paste from the seeds, then strain out the husks.

I can never get all the husks strained out for that creamy, beautifully uniform stuff you see in pics posted online by gastro-exhibitionists. Nevertheless, you’ll have a hot mustard base that you can adjust to taste. A few drops of white vinegar and wine will mellow the heat. If you still want to turn down the heat a little more, add a little sugar. I haven’t tried adding sugar yet, but I bet a little turbinado sugar would not be out of place, with that wee hint of molasses.

So, then you let the new mustard sit in the fridge for a day or two and then slather it on your hot dogs, your peanut butter & jelly, your bananas, whatever.

The first time I made this, I got it all strained and took a nice big swig, and it just about blew my palate out the back of my head.

And it brought back memories of a mustard from long ago. It was back in 1975, a Monday morning three days before Christmas. Around 10:30, my friend Vincent and I walked out on a crappy job in Manhattan’s garment district. We took the subway down to St Mark’s Place in the East Village and walked directly to McSorley’s Tavern on 7th Street.

The taverns and coffee houses of lower Manhattan were famous in my family for the role they played in curtailing my Uncle Jack’s college education. In the early ’60s, the prestigious East Village art college, Cooper Union, offered free tuition to those good enough to get accepted. Jack was a precocious painter and sculptor and was granted a free ride.

But he who foots the bill calls the shots. Jack became a little too enamored of the Village’s beatnik life, and the college kicked him out for missing too many classes after too many nights beating the bongos at places like McSorley’s.

That morning in 1975 Vincent and I got down to McSorley’s just in time to beat the lunch crowd. We sat at a big table in the front room and were joined by a couple of Brooklyn mechanics in greasy overalls. With Christmas three days away, the lunch crowd was already exceedingly merry.

One of the mechanics took a big spoonful of the exceedingly hot house mustard, plopped it into a pint of the exceedingly stout house stout and gleefully whipped this concoction up into an evil froth of vapors and foam rising vigorously out of the mug.

Vincent and I watched in wonder as the mechanic chugged this strange brew and then proceeded to do the same with his second pint.

(You always had two pints in front of you at McSorley’s; you never went to the bar for just a single pint.)

It was quite a performance. An unabashed copycat, I turn to Vincent and say, “I gotta try this.”

When I was able to speak again two minutes later, I swore off copying stupid stuff I see people do in bars.

So be forewarned: be courageous but wary with your fresh batch of mustard. And keep it away from the Guinness.

Oh, and I have some friends who also experience various cravings brought on apparently by elevated estrogen levels, but no one with the same lust for mustard. Guess I’m just lucky.

• Jane Hale lives in Juneau with her partner and their two dogs. “Coming Out” appears biweekly on the Empire’s neighbors page.

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