How was I going to replicate the organic cornbread I’ve been making (and eating) in North Carolina here in Teotitlan del Valle?, I wondered. As I cruised the village market yesterday, I saw a local woman selling small bags of ground cornmeal. I asked her to verify what it was, since I wanted plain ground corn. For atole, she replied, in Spanish. Nothing more than corn. Maize molido. I thought, oh, good, local from her milpa.
I know how they grind corn here. Almost every family has a small plot of corn, squash and beans out in the campo. This is to sustain them and their animals throughout the year. Everyone eats the same corn — animals and humans alike. There are three corn plantings and harvests a year. The last harvest is coming in now, just before Muertos.
Once the corn is harvested, most of it is dried. The women peel the kernels off the husks, then take the dried corn kernels to the local molino (mill). There is a mill in every neighborhood here. They choose how they want it ground, coarse to fine. What I bought was a fine ground cornmeal. Native, organic corn. Original corn. Healthy. Just perfect.
I followed a highly rated gluten-free recipe online, but added my own flavors to the dry meal: 1/4 t. turmeric, one tablespoon of minced, candied ginger, about a teaspoon of dried oregano I had bought fresh at the local market some months ago.
We are at 6,000 feet altitude here in the Oaxaca valley. It takes longer to bake and we need to crank up the oven temperature a bit to compensate. Baking here is as much an art as it is a science, so I watch the cornbread to make sure it is rising and not browning too fast.
My friend Kalisa is a baker extraordinaire. She often stays in the casita when I’m gone, caring for the dogs. Of course, this is a Mexican stove! She did a translation of oven temps from Fahrenheit to Centigrade last year. We keep this on a faithful sticky note on the side of the cupboard near the oven. It helps immensely.
Footnote: It took over an hour to bake. The recipe called for 25 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. The texture is fine, more like a cake than a bread. Next time, I’ll see if I can find a coarse grind meal in the village. Meanwhile, I taste the turmeric and the oregano and ginger. I like the mingling of the flavors.
What can you experiment with?
P.S. A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I used to own and operate a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school. I still love to experiment.
Everyday Life in the Campo, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
Those of us who live here in Mexico probably do much the same things that you do every day. Food shop, clean house, exercise, visit friends, read, write, take naps, volunteer, etc. Most of the immigrants I know are retired and live here either part or full-time. We’re from Canada and the U.S.A. for the most part, but Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans are among us, too.
Oaxaca Red casita color. With Gar Bii Dauu. Local endangered succulent.
Living in Teotitlan del Valle is different from being a city dweller. This village of indigenous Zapotec people holds to a strong, powerful and ancient culture. Many work at weaving wool rugs. Some are musicians. Others are shopkeepers or run comedors. Some are bakers and butchers. A few sew clothing. Many are farmers. In times when there are fewer tourists, many weavers supplement their income by growing and harvesting food.
Plowing my neighbor’s corn field, five plus hours of labor
I live in the campo. Out beyond the hubbub of town, amid the traditional milpas of corn, beans and squash. I’m surrounded on three sides by maize fields. Some are tasseling now. Here, the tradition is to plow the furrows when the corn is waist-high to break the crust and allow rain to penetrate earth. This is living close to the soil. Organic. Honorable.
It’s rainy season. Green stretches for miles. Today I awakened to whistling. Out my window was a young man driving a team of bulls plowing the field next to the casita I live in.
Rene’s Volkswagen van. Can you guess it’s vintage?
I grew up in Los Angeles. Miles of freeways. Concrete. Tiny lots separated by six-foot block walls. School yards paved with asphalt. I remember scraped knees and elbows. The hum of car engines passing. We were all jammed together, a jam of humanity. Even more now. Gridlock. I think I’ve become a country girl.
The crop was planted in July. There wasn’t much rain in June and farmers worried about another year of drought. In my absence over the last five weeks, seems that weather has played catch up and everything is growing.
Two teams of bulls on two days, one white, the other black. Take a rest.
The young man plowing the field rents out his services. His two bulls are tethered with a hand-hewn yoke that supports a wood plow. He guides the curved stick deep into the earth with one hand to keep the furrow straight. In the other, he holds a switch that gently prods the animals to keep on the straight and narrow. Farm machinery cannot do this job well enough.
A perfect day for plowing the fields. From my living room window.
This is his second day at it. Both days, he started at eight in the morning, ended around two o-clock in the afternoon, just before lunch. People work hard here. Five plus hours plowing the field with no break in the heat of the day. The monotony of walking back and forth. The patience of walking back and forth.
Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat, March 2017
My friend, plumber and handy-man extraordinaire René asks me if I know what the greca (Greek key) symbol means that is woven on village rugs. It’s the step-fret carved into the Mitla temple walls, I answer.
Grecas, Mitla archeological site, post-classical Monte Alban
Yes, and more, he says. The ancient Zapotecs believe the two interlocking hands that form the pre-Hispanic greca represent the serpent deity duality and the life-giving connection between earth and sky, water and fire.
Rene executing the transformation. Beige to red. Symbol of change.
We are eating lunch and the thunder is rolling in. The sky darkens. Earth gives off the aroma of on-coming rain. The just plowed field next door will soon drink its fill. René packs up his painting supplies. Paint does not do well with humidity.
Handwoven indigo rug with greca design, Teotitlan del Valle
The exterior walls of the casita I live in are getting a makeover. The wasband liked beige. I’m in the mood for Oaxaca Red.
From rooftop terrace, a 360 degree view of Tlacolula valley
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Photography, Teotitlan del Valle, Travel & Tourism, Workshops and Retreats
Tagged corn, creative writing, expat life, farming, food, greca, living in Mexico, Mexico, milpa, Mitla, Oaxaca, organic, photography, rain, smell, Teotitlan del Valle