Maiz (Corn) The imperial grain

Maiz (Corn) The imperial grain

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The Incas considered it sacred

Although the Inca civilization is better known as the cradle of the potato, like other great American societies it was also a maize civilization, and the crop was known in Perú from at least 1,200 years B.C. the ancient Peruvian farmers achieved a level of sophisfication in the selection and creation of new varieties adaptable to diverse geographical and climatic conditions. The Chronicler Bernabe Cobo recounts that in ancient Perú there was maize (called choclo) of all colours: white, yellow, blue black, red and variegated. Today over 55 varieties of maize are grown throughout Perú’s coast, highlands and jungle, more than in any other area in the world.

The Inca Garcilaso de la Vega gives us a description of dietary habits during the Colonial period in his famous  COMENTARIOS REALES DE LOS INCAS (Royal Comentaries). The author relates that one of the pillars of contemporary diet was maize, which was called Sara. It was eaten toasted or boiled. For solemn occasions the kernels were ground up and made into a kind of bread called Tanta or Huminta. For major festivals, such as that of the sun (Inti Raymi), small rolls of maize bread, called , zancu, were made. The grain was also eaten toasted, called by the same name we still use today: Cancha (the predecessor of popcorn).

It was vital to the Empire to have control over the maize-growing lands. For instance, two rich areas, Abancay and Cochabamba, were conquered by the Incas, who moved settlers there, known as Mitimaes, who were in charge of farming maize for the state. Unlike tubers, which were grown by peoples and households for themselves. Maize was and state affair.}the countless redeptacles and weavings illustrating corn-on-the- cob, and innumerable ceramic vessels for Chicha found in archaeological excavations bear witness to the importance of maize for pre-Hispanic Perú.

In ancient Perú, maize was always invested with a sacred and mythical character. The myth of the founding of the inperial city of Cusco by the Ayar brothers tells of how the laid the fondations of civilization, and they began by teaching men to grow maize. The Chicha frond the fermented grain, known as Chicha de Jora, has been an indispensable drink from time immemorial.

The ancient Peruvians would throw some drops of Chicha toward the sun, onto the ground and fireplace to invoke the favor of the gods. Chicha has been used in a great variety of ways: to celebrate victories at war; to inspire presage from the seers, pay homage to ancestors or simply as refresment during community work.

Maize dishes

Perú has a number of dishes made from maize which are similar to those of other countries in Latin America. There is the maize cake, with its equivalent in Chile; and Tamales, which are found throughout the sub-continent from Mexico to Central America and Venezuela.

Seasoning and usage is different however: In Central America Tamales are traditional Chrismas fare. In Lima, Tamales are served for Sunday breakfast, although Perú has tamales and Humintas of every color and taste (green, brown and yellow, sweet and savory), and they are served at all times and places.

The difference between Humintas and Tamales is that Humintas are made from ground young maize, wrapped in maize leaves, while Tamales are made from soaked ripe kernels, wrapped and cooked in banana leaves.

In Perú the whole boiled corn-on-the- cobis eaten more than anywhere else. There is nothing better than a large tender Urubamba Choclo served with farmer’s chesse, or by itself with anticuchos (chunks of meat, preferably beef heart, marinated in vinegar and spices and roasted on cane sticks).

Choclo is also the basic ingredient in most Peruvian soups and consommés, generally together with other Andean ingredients like potatoes and broad (fava) beans, and seasoned with local aromatic herbs such as Paico (salwort) Muña, Lima bean and hot pepper. The choclo is basic ingredient for a number of soups: the lawa, made from Cusco maize (maize ground up with broad beans, potatoes, farmer’s cheese and spices), Pataska of the Central Highlands, made with boile maize kernels, beef tripe and hoof), the chochoca (bolied maize, dried and roughly ground, with beef broth). The espesado norteño tender choclo grated and cooked with beef, fresh coriander, fresh beans, yuca, caigua and milk), the sancochado or puchero (with meat and all kinds of vegetables) which is eaten throughout the country, or the plain cream of choclo soup (made with beaten egg, milk and some butter). Peruvian soups as yet hardly known internationally, would be a sensation at any world gastronomic festival.

There are regional varieties of maize dishes, in the north pepian is very large popular: this a steew made from grated choclo mixed with an onion, garlic and chili sauce. It is particularly tasty when cooked with pices of baby turkey. In Arequipa the soltero is popular (it is made from broadd beans, maize, onion and sauces with basic farmer’s cheese sauce). In the jungle the inchi cachi is a traditiona dish. This is made from chicken boiled in a toasted maize and peanut stew. Pudding incude sanguito (yellow cornflour, lard, raisins and chancaca or caked molasses). Mazamorra morada is a classic which we will mention later on.

Maize has been adapted to the customs of intenational cooking, maize kernels are delicious with mozzarella, bechamel sauce or lasagna. Blue maiz blavoured popsicles  is causing a stir in ice cream parlours.

Purple chica and mazamorra morada

Refreshing drink

Blue maize is a genetic mutation of maize. It flourishes in cultivation or wild in a variety of places of America. Blue maize was grown in Perú long before the arrival of the Spanish, and was known as moro sara or kulli sara. It was also grown by the Yucatan peasant farmer and the Hopi and Navajo indians in the United States. But it is in Perú where it is most widely farmed and used in all of soft drinks, popsicles and desserts.

Purple chicha is a traditional soft drink on the cost or Perú. It is made from blue maize boiled with pineapple skin and quinces, and a pinch of cinnamon and cloves. Once cool it is sweetened with sugar. A dash of lemon juice and diced fresh fruit (apple pineapple or quince) give the final touch.

Mazamorra made form maize dates back to pre-Hispanic days. A number of chroniclers mention motalsa or ishkupcha made from yellow maize in pre-Hispanic eras with a small amount of quicklime. During the Colonial era a new pudding was produced by mixing indigenous ingredients, such as blue maice and sweet potatoe flour, sugar and a variety of dried fruit, and a compote (prunes, cherries, apricots, nectarines, apples and quinces) from Spain. This pudding, know as the “mazamorra”, became so pupular that it gave rise to the expression “una mazamorra limeña” (meaning a Lima resident through and through), which came into common usage after being published in the classic work of the writer Ricardo Palma, TRADIONES PERUANAS.

Cusco’s chicha

The inka’s drink

The traditional drink of Cusco and Peruvian Andes is Chicha de Jora. The researcher Elena Llosa has found that there are people who are expert chicha brewers. They soak yellow maize in barrels, let germinat in underground stills, then in the open air, covering the grain with straw until the sprout grows. The maize in the condition, “jora” is brougth to the boil, and a flour called chile is added. It is boiled for several hours, then strained through an isanga, a basket filled with straw. The residue is boiled again with fresh water. Both lots are fermented in chombas, earthenware pots, and then mixed, and the leftovers of the chicha of the day before are added so that the mixture has a sufficient amount of alcohol. Finally, a measure of boiled flour and sugar is usually added. The chicha should be drunk that same day, or it will be too fermented and will lose its foam.

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