Guatemalans love their corn. Besides its spiritual significance to the ancient Mayan, la milpa (as it’s known here) is an essential part of Guatemalan life. The majority of rural farmers and their families depend on just one large corn harvest per year to make all of their tortillas. As such, they have their own names for just about everything corn-related. If you took into account all the indigenous languages in Guatemala, there would surely be hundreds of names for every part of this hardy plant. Here’s what you need to know to keep the most important ones straight.
A lot of work goes into the making of a delicious Guatemalan corn tortilla. First, the corn must be harvested, which usually happens in the middle of the rainy season around August. The ear of corn (mazorca) is separated from the stalk (caña), after which the husk (tuza) is removed, leaving you with an elote, or cob. Elotes are often grilled and eaten with lime and salt. During town festivals, they are even covered in mayonnaise, ketchup, and cheese and referred to as elotes locos. However, most go towards the making of plain tortillas. First, the individual grains (granos) are removed, leaving behind a bare, kernel-less olote. The corn kernels are then boiled and soaked in water with lime (known as cal), a material that helps to soften them up for grinding. This mixture of water, lime, and corn kernels is referred to as nixtamal. Once sufficiently soft, the kernels are passed through the gas-powered mill (molino). In many rural areas, woman still grind their corn by hand using a large mortar and pestle called a metate. Once the corn has been grinded, it is now in the form of dough, or masa. Finally, women around the country clap and slap little chunks of dough to make Guatemala’s famous tortillas.
Photo Credit: Antigua Daily Photo – Rudy Girón