Last week, we all went out to visit a family friend in a nearby pueblo. There was a rodeo going on, called a jarapeo around here, and this was the last, biggest night. Bull-riding night. Our family friends have a small ranchito where they raise corn and alfalfa and cows and chickens. They are old time Oaxacan farmers, living a nearly self-sufficient life as subsistence farmers.
This time of year is the corn harvest, so while we visited before the rodeo, we sat around a long table drinking beers and processing corn. The corn had already been picked and stored in the corn crib to dry. The little girls decided the best job for them would be to crawl into the corncrib and find the best, fattest cobs and pass them out to us.
I and Abuelita stripped the husks from the cobs and shoved them into a large basket for the cows. We put the naked cobs into a bucket and passed them along to the men, who used their hands to twist off the kernels. I tried to do this twisting, but it takes stronger hands than mine.
In about a half hour, we collectively filled a five gallon bucket with kernels. I asked how long that bucket would last the family as food, and was told it would serve for two or three batches of nixtamal. Nixtamal is the process of boiling the kernels with lime so they swell and get soft for grinding. It also releases B vitamins which exist in the corn but which are not available for absorption without this process. People who depend heavily on corn as a staple but who do not process it into nixtamal are vulnerable to pellagra, a deficiency disease. How the ancient Mexicans figured this out is a mystery to me.
Two batches of Nixtamal will serve the family tortillas for about a week, maybe a week and a half. So you can see how very labor-intensive it is to rely on corn. Just this one stage of processing cost some 3 man-hours (6 people working for a half hour each), and it represents only a tiny fraction of all the work involved, from planting to reaping to grinding and cooking. However, it was a pleasant half hour spent chatting with friends and family.
And the girls had a fantastic time.