Tag Archives: squash

Fruits and Vegetables

Did you know that in addition to corn and chocolate being native to Mexico, avocados, peanuts, squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and papaya are all Prehispanic delights?

avocado pictograph

Aztec pictograph indicating “the place where avocados grow.”

Avocado is thought to have originated in the state of Puebla. The oldest evidence of avocado use dates to about 10,000 BC, found in a cave located in the town of Coxcatlan. The word avocado comes from the Spanish aguacate which comes from the Nahuatl word āhuacatl which goes back to the proto-Aztecan word *pa:wa. The Nahuatl word also can be translated as testicle.  Since this fruit was considered an aphrodisiac, perhaps because of its similarity to male reproductive organs, young girls were kept indoors during the annual avocado harvest.

Aguacate maduro, pedo seguro.  Ripe avocados–farts for sure!  

Without the avocado, there would be no Guacamole! The name Guacamole comes from the Nahuatl work āhuacamolli which translates as avocado sauce (see Mole).

The tomato also comes from Mexico. The name comes from the Nahuatl word tomatl which translates as “fat water.” The Aztecs cultivated the tomatl and came up with a new species they called xitomatl which translates as “plump thing with a navel.”

A la mejor cocinera se le va un tomate entero.   A whole tomato can escape the best cook. Meaning everyone makes mistakes.

And what would salsa be without the tomato?

The papaya was also a common domesticated fruit in Mexico before the arrival of the Spanish. It was called chichihualtzapotl in Nahuatl which meant zapote nodriza (mothering or nursing zapote.) The papaya had medicinal value to the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The Aztecs applied papaya fruit to their skin for relief from insects bites. Asthma was treated with boiled papaya leaves applied to the chest.

cacahuate

Nine flowers of Mexico

The modern day name for the zapote fruit, papaya, comes from the Mayan word páapay-ya which means zapote jaspeado (marbled or spotted zapote).

Peanuts may have been domesticated in Argentina or Bolivia. However, its cultivation in Mexico was well-established before the arrival of the Spanish. Peanuts were called tlalcacahuatl or tlalli auh cacahuatl in Nahuatl which gives us the Mexican Spanish word cacahuate that is used today.

peanut seller

One of our local peanut vendors in Moroleon, GTO

Me vale un reverendo cacahuate.  It’s as important to me as a holy peanut. Meaning it’s not important to me at all.

The oldest pumpkin seed found was in the Guila Naquitz Cave in Oaxaca and dates as far back as 7000 BC.  Squash has been cultivated in the Tehuacan and Oaxaca valleys and in Tamaulipas since 6000-5000 BC. Its cultivation predates the domestication of maize and beans by about 4,000 years. (See Las Tres Hermanas)

Squash was a ritual offering presented in honor of the dead during the month of Miccailhuitontli by the Aztecs and is still considered an appropriate addition to the altar during El Dia de los Muertos celebration in Mexico in the form of calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin).

Sweet potatoes are native plants that are found from the Yucatan on down south to Venezuela. The Maya domesticated the plant at least 5,000 years ago.  In Mexico, sweet potatoes are known as camotes which comes from the Nahuatl word camotli. Camotes enmielados (honeyed sweet potatoes) are yet another specialty food traditionally made and served for El Dia de Los Muertos.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little week-long foray into traditional eats in Mexico as much as I have!  And remember–La vida es un camote agárrese de donde pueda.  Life is a sweet potato.  Hold on to it where you can.

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Filed under Carnival posts, Mexican Cultural Stories, Mexican Food and Drink, Mexican Holidays, Native fauna and flora, Natural Healing

Failing at your own business–Sharecropping

For the past few years, we have been sharecropping on a neighbor’s hectare (acre). It involves working 2-3 hours daily from the summer planting season in June until the fall harvest in November. (See Forcibly Green)

My husband waits to plant until the middle of June just to ensure the rains would remain steady because we have no way to irrigate the field. It’s a crucial decision in the life of a sharecropper. Plant too early and the corn sprouts wither. Plant too late and frost kills off the crop before harvest. We’ve had mixed results. Some years, there have been bumper crops. Others, the plants are puny and low producing.

barbechando

The first step is barbechando the area to be planted.

The first step is readying the field called barbechando. Fiona was an essential component there, pulling the plow up and over the old corn rows. She does 5-10 rows per day. When the soil is suitably mixed, she starts at the beginning again making rows. Nearly straight is just as good as totally straight. The plants don’t seem to know the difference and grow anyway.

plowing with fiona

Making the rows.

We plant in the tres hermanas (See Planting with the tres hermanas) style. Corn, beans, and squash are planted and tended together. Once the corn has sprouted about knee-high, Fiona takes another swing through the rows. Any maiz coyote (non-ear producing corn) is pulled out, and the regular corn plants in their rows are thinned out, although not aggressively.  Some sections need to be replanted.  Mice and birds really like organic seed corn.

thinning

Thinning out and replanting.

The rainy season ensures that the non-edible plants grow faster than the edible ones. To keep the edible plants from being choked to death, it’s necessary to arrancar (pull out from the roots) the invaders. As soon as the weeding is done through once, it’s time to start back at the beginning again.

working in the field

A nice morning for working in the field.

If the corn starts to yellow, we throw abono (fertilizer) around the roots. This is usually a one-day project, sometimes two if we get a late start on the first day.

As the crops ripen, we enjoy the steady stream of bounty. My husband makes a delicious squash, tomato and onion dish. Corn is boiled in its leaves or roasted over the open flame. Beans can be cooked fresh from the vine or spread out to dry for later.

corn

A day in the fields removing the dried corn ears from the stalks.

Let the planter beware! The drive-by harvesters flock to La Yacata about this time. Unlike crows, mice, and squirrels, the drive-by harvester is not put off by scarecrows or lines of plastic bottles swaying in the wind. We send out extra patrols, dando la vuelta to check the borders of our crops several times a day until all the fresh produce is in.

toros

These drying stacks are called toros.

Once the corn has dried, we cut and stack it in toros (stacks). This is when the sharecropper pays his dues. We had a la tercia (a third) contract For every 3 stacks the field produces, one stack goes to the owner of the hectare. The owner and the sharecropper walk through the stacks together while the owner indicates which stacks he will accept as payment.

bringing it home

Bringing it home.

Once the crop is divided, it’s in the best interest of the sharecropper to remove his stacks as soon as possible, either by having the molinero (shredder) come or just restacking them in another area for further drying. Remember, the concept of ownership is more open here in Mexico. We’ve had entire stacks of drying corn stolen in the night. We could file a police report I suppose, but when have the cops here ever looked out for anyone’s interests but their own?

fiona

Fiona saddled up for an afternoon ride.

This year, my husband decided not to plant. He was so determined not to plant that he sold Fiona. I opposed the sale. Fiona is a good worker. She earns her keep. She is placid and gentle when not working, unlike Joey I also prefer her lady-like steps to Beauty‘s mountainous stride when riding. But he was not to be gainsaid. (See Reducing the herds) and away she went.

moliendo rastrojo

Moliendo rastrojo. Milling the corn stalks for animal fodder.

Even without planting ourselves, we should be able to get enough rastrojo (dry corn stalks without the corn) from neighbors. A 7 x 20 lot size sells for less than $100 pesos. Entire hectares can be purchased after the harvest. We’ve done this before. My husband makes the deal, and when the owner says it’s ready to be picked up, he goes with the truck and brings it back to stack next to our house. When we have enough, he calls in the molinero, and we bag it up for winter feed. Instead of a June-November work season, our gathering work takes about a week in late November.

I am not about to give up on fresh, organic goodness even though we aren’t sharecropping. So this year, I’ve been trying my hand at container gardening. (See Failing at Container Gardening).

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