This morning I awaken to the smell of the wood fire. The smoke drifts through the air like a voice into my sleeping room, calling me. Magdalena is at the outdoor comal preparing tortillas. This is the season for blue corn.
This is ancient corn — maize — organic, grown from kernels cultivated here in the Tlacolula Valley for 8,000 years. In 2010, UNESCO named the archeological site and caves at Yagul as a World Heritage Site. Here, they found evidence of corn cobs in the caves as the indigenous population shifted from hunter-gatherers to farmers, laying the foundation for cultivated agriculture in all of Mesoamerica.
This particular blue corn that Magda uses is grown on a rancho in the foothills outside of Teotitlan del Valle on the road to Benito Juarez in the Sierra Madre del Sur, an hour up the mountain. She buys it already ground and then mixes the masa to the consistency of her liking, adding water to the dry corn powder.
Then, she will take a fist-full from the larger balls of dough, put it on the metate, knead it by hand, then knead it with the mano de metate (the granite stone that looks like a rolling-pin). She will then form a small ball and put it between two pieces of yellow plastic and form it into the tortilla shape on the tortilla press. Lots of upper body work!
Corn is sacred. It is the sustenance of life. Indigenous corn is pure, not hybridized by Monsanto, and is full of nutritional value. When eaten with beans and squash, it forms a complex protein. Chef Susana Trilling and photographer Judith Cooper Haden are vocal advocates in Oaxaca for the anti-Monsanto movement. working in the Mixteca to preserve indigenous corn and the milpa crop-growing traditions.
Coming Up, April 2-9: Portrait Photography Workshop
Last night for dinner I ate this blue corn with organic lettuce and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and lime juice, a hunk of Oaxaqueño cheese, and black beans. I could taste the earthy deliciousness. The coarse bits of corn told me this was real food.
Of course, it takes Magda’s wise and skilled hands to create this wonder. She is now close to 70 years old. Women live here until well into their 80’s and 90’s. She is carrying on a tradition that not many of the younger generation will adopt. It is hard work. The outdoor fire is stoked with wood gathered from the campo (countryside). The labor of tradition is in the souls of the grandmothers.
Soon it will be time for breakfast and we will eat this wonderful flat corn bread. I can hardly wait!
Coming Up, April 2-9: Portrait Photography Workshop. There’s a space for you!
Book Preview–Milpa: From Seed to Salsa, Oaxaca Food, Recipes, Sustainability
When I visited photographer Judith Cooper Haden in her Santa Fe home recently, she showed me the final proofs for Milpa: From Seed to Salsa, Ancient Ingredients for a Sustainable Future. The book explores the Mesoamerican way of growing, cooking and eating food.
The photography is stunning! Four years in the making, the book is a collaborative visual narrative filled with pictures that touch your heart, delicious recipes you’ll want to cook, and cultural commentary to understand more about how Oaxaca’s original people grow their food and the risks associated with environmental devastation.
The book will be ready for printing, distribution and purchase shortly. It is a combined effort by community development organizer Phil Dahl-Bredine, Jesus Leon Santos, Goldman Environmental Prize winner and director, Center for Integral Small Farmer Development in the Mixteca (CEDICAM), cultural photographer Judith Cooper Haden and chef/teacher/author Susana Trilling.
You can pre-order this book today!
firstname.lastname@example.org, 505-984-9849 USA
With 289 pages and 267 photographs and bilingual presentation, it explores food issues, presents mouth-watering recipes, and offers stunning documentary photography about how the ancient agricultural knowledge and the wealth of 1,000 year-old seeds and planting practices are being revived in the environmentally devastated Mixtec region of Oaxaca. Through example, the narrative can help us meet the ecological, health and food crises of today.
This is a taste of what is to come.
Judy Haden says, “I had no idea I was initiating a 4-year long odyssey when I asked Phil Dahl-Bredine, a 14-year resident in the Mixteca Alta, if I could somehow help him and the non-profit CEDICAM. This first discussion over hot chocolate on the Zócalo quickly became the seed of a ‘political cookbook’ that incorporates Phil’s thought-provoking essays on local food and international sustainability issues, heritage seeds and the ill effects of GMO’s, Susana Trilling’s tasty and carefully tested traditional recipes from our Mixtecan cooks/contributors, and my own images.
“The sepia portraits and the color food shots are, I think, so helpful in really understanding the conditions and the situation in the Mixteca Alta (a short hour north of Oaxaca City). Susana and I traveled to many small towns and villages over two years to interview the members of CEDICAM (http://www.cedicam-ac.org/) and spend hours with them learning and documenting their delicious recipes, and the planting of the crops. We visited feast days, religions holidays and private homes. Our plates were always full!
“The book is divided into different sections based on each milpa crop. As Charles C. Mann explained in 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, “A milpa is a field…in which farmers plant a dozen crops at once including maize, avocados, multiple varieties of squash and bean, melon, tomatoes, chilies, sweet potato, jícama, amaranth,and mucana….Milpa crops are nutritionally and environmentally complementary.”
The book has received heart-warming advance endorsements from many people, including Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Lila Downs, vegetarian chef and author Deborah Madison, agro-economist Miguel Altieri, photographer Phil Borges, Chef Iliana de la Vega, seedsman Steven Scott/Terroir Seeds and food author Peter Rosset. This is very gratifying to the authors after working so long and hard on this project.
Milpa: From Seed to Salsa is an extraordinary book in many ways. It is a hopeful book that shows in careful detail how extremely well the old ways of farming and living in community can not only feed rural populations but also provide them with medicine and fodder for animals. This is a viable alternative to big agriculture and so-called improvements from elsewhere; this is a fine example.
Milpa is also a remarkable book because, like the community of families that tends the milpa fields, this book is product of cooperation among some very extraordinary people—two activists, a chef, and a photographer, who all found a way to bring to light a story of hope with great wisdom and beauty, with the cooperation of the Mixtec community who live the life this book allows us to witness. I am so grateful for this book. It is a treasure.
~Deborah Madison, Chef, Writer, Teacher, James Beard Award winner.
Judith Cooper Haden with Mixteca women
The book is bilingual (Spanish and English), with 290 pages and 276 images. It is beautifully printed in full color. Regular retail is $40. Pre-orders through August 31st receive a 10% discount and a signed copy….and the first 25 pre-orders will receive a free 5”x7” brown-toned image from the book. Shipping is additional. We use USPS Media Rates. Ship date is late September 2015. For orders and additional info, please write to:
Judith Cooper Haden, email@example.com
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Photography, Travel & Tourism
Tagged book, CEDICAM, corn, environment, essays, food, Goldman Environmental Prize, Jesus Leon Santos, Judith Cooper Haden, Mexico, milpa, Mixtec, Oaxaca, Phil Dahl-Bredine, photography, politics, recipes, small farmers, Susana Trilling, sustainability