The Radical Plate

“Every minute that you entertain yourself without paying some corporation to entertain you, you’re acting radically. If you grow even one plateful of your own food rather than buy it from the food corporations, you’re acting radically.” Wendell Barry

In Sustain…able I shared some of our less successful ventures with you, but this post is about victories, such as the day we began our harvest.

I cringed at the sight of Iowa’s decimated crops when I was there in July. Though I know the fields are rife with poison and genetic mutants I can’t help but root for the plants. I’m dazzled by the utter vitality the rises from the plains like heat waves off hot asphalt. But I am thrilled to report we have had an awesome season.

Once again Felipe timed our planting with well-planned precision. He waits to plant until July 15th, this is considered the last possible day you can put seeds in the ground and expect them to come to fruition. There are many theories of planting here as there are in any farm community. The majority follows the a.s.a.p. route and can be seen in the field before the first rains have soaked the soil. I think this method can be attributed to bored farmers anxious to get into the field. Felipe developed his method for several reasons: the monsoon force rains are gone and the what will run off has fled, the corn borers, our most devastating pests, are moths by then so we avoid using pesticide on our crops, and the earth which is mostly clay and stone here, is saturated and the soil a little more forgiving for the sprouting seeds.

The rains were perfect, long and consistent, the drought we generally experience in August did not occur, and so throughout our area the stalks are beginning to bow with the weight of huge mazorca (ears of dry corn), and sorghum covers almost every level field with brilliant tassels of ochre grain.

This is an interesting bit of rural lore if you find the relationship between humans and zea mays as intriguing as I do; in Spanish there are 6 different names for ear corn in various states of development .

Muneca— when the first silk appears

Guerito— when the silk turns red, Felipe claims this is the most dramatic point in its’ development. “When everyone must look at it” he asserts.

Jilote—when the silk is light brown

Elote—the milky corn stage. This is when we cook the corn whole in its’ still green husks on the fire. In Iowa this is known as the, Is it ready yet? stage.

Camahua—when it’s perfect for esquites (starchy kernels fried in lard with chili and epazote, and tlaxcales (sweet corn gorditas, fat little fried fresh corn tortillas.)

mazorca – dry corn for making masa or feeding to livestock. In La Tigra we eat the same corn as our herds, unlike in the US where there is a distinction between ‘field corn’ meant for animals, and sweet corn for human consumption.

We began our harvest this weekend.New years dAWN

We were up before dawn to do the chores, beat the fire ants and as much heat as possible. Our goal was to pick and husk 15 bags to lie out to dry for pig food this month.Harvest

Harvesting corn requires special attire, the most important part is the T-shirt you wear on your head, your face stuck through the neck like a porthole, the sleeves tied behind your head, which is to save your face from the sharp and itchy leaves of dry corn stalk. The rest of the gear is standard, hats (protect from sun) boots (protection from snakes, thank you Larry) long sleeves and pants (protection from plants thorns, thistles) and in my case, gloves (protection from scorpions). Scorpions love to nest in dry corn husks. Then we simply walk down the rows pull off the ears and remove them from the field. We leave all of our silage in the field for the horses and as rastrojo (organic matter) to renew the soil. Cuitlacoche

But here is the triumph, as we harvested for our pigs, we also found huitlacoche. If you had told me when I was a child that I would eat corn smut, which I deemed the most disgusting thing on the planet, honestly, I can’t imagine the crazed fit I would have thrown. But as you may know, it is a delicacy of Mexican cuisine, and I now declare it seriously delicious. So as Felipe finished bagging the corn, I took the corn fungus and made our breakfast. Thank you Pancha

We had egg and huitlacoche tacos. I used eggs from our own hens, and made tortillas with corn we grew ourselves. I carried the tacos into our field and we sat next to a papalo plant and nibbled it as we ate. We were tired and itchy and hot having spent 6 hours working in the sun.  But this is what we live for, the absolute satisfaction of sitting on the piece of earth we steward, within the circle of nature, acknowleging and being nourished by all its’ gifts.Tacos de Cuitlacoche It was a beautiful day, for a radical plate.

© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer

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6 thoughts on “The Radical Plate

    • Us too Larry, seriously, it’s been a hard week and we are much in need of some good company and time away from La Tigra. Beware the post about Elvis my friend its a heartbreaker, but what can i do? I write about our lives here. xoxox a

  1. Oh, Abby. This is probably my favorite of all your posts. I learned about all the stages and names which I did not know before, and I can FEEL your pride. I felt proud too!

  2. Congratulations on your good year with the maize – and thanks for sharing the experience. As a kid visiting my abuela in Ohio, I remember the corn crib where the ‘cow corn’ was stored for animal feed, and the rows of ‘sweet corn’ in the kitchen garden to supply the family table…

    • it takes awhile to get used to eating the field corn, when I first got here, being Iowan, I was a corn snob(argh of all things, who was that person ?!) anyway now I just apprecciate food, in all its forms, thanks for sharing this on FB, I am always so happy to recieve your comments Stan, paz a.

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