Customs, Food Culture, Traditional Food

Corn Drying

Colorful Corn of Cuzco (Photo: Wayra)

The sun hangs in the sky these days in Cuzco and temperatures rise. The dark clouds and rain seem to have fled for a while. It is the dry season and the harvest is over. As a result, people take advantage of the dry, warm days, and chilly nights, to prepare corn for storage.

All over, even in the city, you will see multicolored ears of corn drying on roofs or on the ground. In the moister lowlands, where the ground retains moisture, the corn hangs on strings in the air, sometimes stretched from post to post, such as on a balcony. Corn seems everywhere.

Corn Plant Ready For Harvest (Photo: Wayra)
Corn Plant Ready For Harvest (Photo: Wayra)

Corn is one of the two ancient staffs of life in the Andes. Following Andean dualism, the Incas, their predecessors and descendants, depended on potatoes from the highlands, and from inside the ground, as well as on corn from the valleys and lower lands, as well as something that grows above ground on long stalks in the air. Two sets of divisions encounter each other in these foods: from inside the earth vs. from above the earth; foods from the highlands vs. foods from the lowlands.

Together potatoes and corn are not only nutritionally satisfying, they are cosmologically pleasing in the way they bring these divisions into a whole, not unlike the way yin and yang come together in the Orient.

Corn Drying on a Lowland Balcony (Photo: Wayra)
Corn Drying on a Lowland Balcony (Photo: Wayra)

Peru is one of the great repositories of variety for these foods. While the potato originated here, corn seems to have come from Mexico. At least that is what the evidence suggests, though it arrived here very early, more than ten thousand years ago. Consequently, Peru has one of the greatest sets of varieties of corn in the world, outside of Mexico. They include various species that are not found elsewhere as well as ones that are shared.

Cuzco is famous for its giant white corn, which is typical of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, though even there other varieties of corn are grown. Each community and region of Cuzco, not to mention Peru, has its own historical set of varieties. As a result, when you see dried corn you see a amazing rainbow of colors and diversity of shapes.

Rainbow of Corn on a Roof (Photo: Wayra)
Rainbow of Corn on a Roof (Photo: Wayra)

Since the air is dry, the days hot and the nights cold, people now eat dry-season food. When ground, the newly dried corn is perfect for making tamales, as well as soups such as lawa de maíz, a corn gruel not unlike a chowder. People also make cakes and breads from corn, as well as croquets of corn.

Of course the different varieties of corn have different uses, such as when the variety chullpi is used to toast for the cancha, the parched corn found on table after table and in dish after dish in Cuzco.

Corn and Other Grains in the Market (Photo: Wayra)
Corn and Other Grains in the Market (Photo: Wayra)

This time brings joy as people see the fruits of their harvest, and that of other people, drying since it means there will be an abundance of food until the next harvest comes. Each season has its own joy.

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