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Noche Mexicana Tour: Morning of Corn, Corn and More Corn

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Ingredient Spotlight On the Road Travel in Mexico

I always chant that the foundation of Mexican cuisine is chiles, beans and corn. Restaurants that don't specialize in these things may have some nice dishes or a hip bar, but they're missing the essence of Mexican cooking. There are shortcuts and there are the traditional methods that are simply superior.

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As part of the tour of the hacienda grounds, we made our way to a neighbor's cornfield (milpa) and then Gabirel and Antonio had everyone harvesting ears of field corn.

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Believe me, the not so subtle irony of gringos being supervised in an agriculture setting by Mexicans was not lost on me!

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Back at the hacienda, a fire was started and water heated, anticpating the corn.

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Shucking corn is apparently back breaking work and requires a break with a platter of sopes from the kitchen. Gracias, Antonio.

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Lily, who is from Colombia but lives in Guadalajara, apparently likes hers.

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While the corn cooked, matriarch Chabela held a seminar on nixtamal, the product of soaking corn in cal and then heating it and then letting it set. This is later ground into the dough, masa, that's used for tortillas and tamales.

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Lupe, the other matriarch of the hacienda, found this incredible brass strainer in Santa Clara del Cobre in Michoacan. I want it!

Next, the nixtamal and the group made their way to the smoke kitchen where bean farmer Roberto's mother demonstrated how she uses the metate to grind the cooked corn into masa. The idea was to let all the guests have a go at it but she was very protective of her metate and no one else would be using it!

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She also demonstrated hand patting tortillas. We were all a mess at this.

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Meanwhile, Gabriel and Roberto cut the corn and cooked it further with salt and epazote and served it in corn husk "boats" and "spoons", bringing the morning's harvest full circle. I have to say, there was a lot of killer food on the trip but this fresh corn snack was one of my favorites.

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