Ancient Mother of Corn – Teosinte

At the Garland Community Garden Teosinte Grows 12 feet Tall - Garland Community Garden September 24, 2017

As I’ve previously mentioned, Loving Garland Green members are growing a patch of teosinte, the ancestor of modern-day corn at the Garland Community Garden. We can tell you with a great amount of certainty now that teosinte grows well in Garland.  We can also tell you with some authority that one must be very patient to grow teosinte.  According to authorities it takes 120 days from planting to maturity.  In regard to the teosinte at the Garland Community Garden, it has already been about 130 days and the ears are still not mature, but it does look like they will get there. 

You can see teosinte down at the Garland Community Garden at least for the next few weeks.  However, prior to that time we will also harvest the tiny “ears”.  Each stalk of teosinte produces 5 to 15 ears of corn, which sounds like a lot until you consider that each ear only has about 12 kernels.  When you compare 12 kernels to the 800 found on a typical ear of modern-day corn, you’ll see what I mean. 


Teosinte unripe ears of corn – the ear is only about four inches long.  The three green kernels were broken off from inside the husk covering - Garland Community Garden September 25, 2017

No one knows precisely when the first corn tortillas were made from primitive corn called teosinte that was ground on stone metates, but most agree that it was no doubt many thousands of years ago.

It was not until the Spanish arrived in the New World, bringing wheat with them that the flour tortilla was born.

Genus Zea, a group of plants in the grass family, encompasses all modern domestic corn varieties including Teosinte. Only five genes separate modern corn from its ancestral precursor, and both plants have the same number of chromosomes. The two can even produce fertile hybrids!

Teosinte was foraged by Mesoamericans more than 10,000 years ago. The ancient people probably began collecting and saving kernels from the tastiest plants ensuring that there would be more for the next season. By doing this, they limited the gene pool and compounded the most favorable traits.

People probably began to notice the results of these deliberate choices after several generations of corn and began to refine them. This process became known as selective breeding.

Thousands of years later in the mid-1800’s Gregor Mendel, a friar in St. Thomas’ Abbey, refined such techniques to create hybrids.

If we have enough teosinte seed, we may grind some of it into flour and give away at our 2017 Harvest Festival.

If so, here is a recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook that we will likely recommend.  A caveat in the recipe’s narrative is to use masa harina, which is a corn meal ground in a certain way and is treated with lime water.  According to them the flavor cannot be duplicated but you can purchase masa harina at most grocery stores.

Recipe to be adapted for teosinte tortillas: 

2 cups masa harina (only we will use our ground teosinte)
1¼ cups water (approximately)
Optional: dash of salt

Mix masa harina and water together (and salt, if you choose), first with a fork, and eventually with your hands. Knead for about 5 minutes. You may have to add a little extra water. The dough should hold together.

Make 12 equal balls, smooth and round. Roll out each ball, on one side only, on an unfloured surface (Formica works well) or between two sheets of waxed paper, to 1/8-inch thick. Trim the edges of the circle with a knife. You should emerge with a neat, clean, thin 6-inch round.

Pan-fry on a lightly greased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, 3–4 minutes on each side. Wrap in a damp towel, and keep them warm in a 200º F oven until serving time.

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