Friday, August 3rd, 2012...6:44 am

Corn in Botswana

In May TheGardenLady received an email from her good friend Lynne who is doing Peace Corp work in Mmathethe, Botswana.  She wrote,

I’m in Kanye today so I’m taking this opportunity with internet to send you these pics of what I saw on my walk the other night. It’s harvesting time for the maize, and unfortunately, people did not do well because of the lack of rains this year, but I thought this was really cool. These people are spending the next several days carving off every little piece of maize to sell to the other villagers. I tasted it last week at my host mom’s house, but it is not sweet like our corn, in fact, it was so bland that it’s not even worth eating, but when in Africa—do as the Africans!

The reason the corn is not sweet is because it is dry.  When corn is removed from the stalk, it loses its sugar. By the time the corn is dried, even when dried on the stalk, corn loses its sweetness and becomes bland tasting.  If you tasted the corn when it was young and still soft, picked fresh from the corn stalk and boiled immediately,  it would have tasted sweet. Perhaps not as sweet as the corn we in the United States eat these days which are hybrids and amazingly sweet. By harvesting the corn when it dried, it holds up better for a longer time.  Fresh corn like we eat would not store well unless it were canned or frozen.  I imagine that the corn they are husking and removing the kernels from is what, when I was a child, we used to call horse corn. We fed it to the animals- on our farm we fed the stalks to the horses and cows and the kernels to the chickens. We didn’t use it for cooking but I imagine it is the same thing that is ground up to make corn bread here in the states or corn meal mush or muffins.

I don’t know what the people in Botswana do with the husks and the  cobs of the corn. They may use the husks for crafts (see here).   And they  may use the cobs for fuel. Nothing goes to waste, especially when you are poor. When I was a child there used to be a joke about using cobs in the outhouse for toilet paper. A red one that was used first and then a white one, you get the picture. It was a joke, I never knew of anyone who used it that way- it seems to rough.  (see here)

Anyway it takes tough calloused fingers to remove all those kernels from the cob.   My fingers almost used to bleed after just doing one ear of dried corn. A fond memory of husking and removing the corn kernels, from my childhood- like the people in your photos- was one evening at my neighbor’s house sitting around a fire talking and joking while removing the kernels. Doing this work is part of old farming life in America when I was a child. Perhaps farmers do it today, but I would imagine there are machines on farms that remove the kernels.

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