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Maize, man and history

Text Simone Collet,

Even before wheat and rice, maize is proudly at the top of the podium in the leading trio of cereals grown around the world.

This first place is hardly surprising: not only do the nutritional virtues of maize for men not need to be are demonstrated, but it is also widely used as food for animals, in the food sector as well as in the production of biogas and green fuel.

A long history

popOriginally from Mexico, its culture dates back to the beginnings of time.

9000 years ago native American farmers began to develop a local grass adapted to the humid tropical climate, called teosinte. The grains were harvested, crushed and ground to make a popular flour which was very appreciated.

Obtained from teosinte through patient selections combined with favourable genetic mutations, maize was the food basis of all pre-Colombian civilisations that succeeded each other in South America. Some even considered corn as a child of the gods.

Applying the rules of sustainable development before our modern times, the farmers used a method of organic cultivation by cultivating a trio of complementary plants together called "the three sisters": i.e. maize, squash and climbing beans.

With the return of Christophe Colombus, maize was introduced in Southern Europe under the name of wheat from India (name which was kept in Canada). In other parts it is called Barbarie wheat or wheat from Turkey, because of doubts concerning its origin during its propagation on the old continent.

In the first half of the 20th century hybrids and then transgenic seeds were created, making maize the symbol of intensive agriculture, the latter being subject to intense controversy. In addition, the progress in genetics allowed the development of early varieties and other varieties adapted to less warm climates, making it possible to quadruple the yields in the second half of the century.

Corn today

pop2Named "Zea mays" in botanical science, maize belongs to the family of poaceae (or grasses). Either the whole plant is harvested or only the extremely starchy grains.

Maize grows rapidly and its yield is better than wheat. Due to its tropical origin an especial photosynthesis allows it to perfectly enhance the light and heat as do for example sorgho and sugar cane.

The cultivation of corn is now universal as it is cultivated in a 150 countries spread over the five continents. Depending on the varieties and the geographic location this robust cereal can indeed easily grow from 0 meters (sea level) to 3000 meter altitude.

Economic advantages

The main exporting countries are the United States, Argentina, Brazil, the Ukraine and France. Together they represent more than 80% of the world export. Nearly 2/3 of the production is for animal food, especially in industrialised countries.


In terms of consumption the United States comes again in the lead, followed by China, the European Union, Brazil and Mexico.

Maize satisfies gourmets from all countries with the infinite palette of its preparations: in fresh and crunchy grains, in the form of grilled ears, as popcorn, cornflakes, maize (starch)…..As well as in the "farina bona" and "polenta" two specialities of Ticino, the southernmost canton of Switzerland with a climate particularly favourable to its cultivation.


Good receipt:
Polenta bramata from Ticino

• Boil 1,1 litre of vegetable broth with a little salt added (or a mixture of half water and half milk).
• Pour in rain 220 g bramata corn (corn grains)
• Reduce the heat and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly with a large wooden spoon
• Reduce the heat a bit and let simmer for half an hour stirring occasionally
• Add a nut of butter and 50 g grated parmesan cheese
• Add some pepper, mix and serve with a salad

Text Simone Collet
Picture Pixabay

Wheat and bread

Text Simone Collet,

Wheat and bread Wheat has been feeding mankind since the beginning of times. Let's take a look at their common history.

Since the beginning of agriculture, wheat and cereals have been an essential food for people. On all continents, civilisations developed on the basis of one main cereal: Rice in Asia, Sorgho or millet in Africa, corn in South America, wheat in Europe.

Let's talk about wheat...

wheatIn the Middle East the first growers selected and developed wild grasses from a humble plant called "jointed goat".

Time passing, they managed with many efforts and patience to create the final grain, in other words the small spelt, then the emmer, and finally the big spelt. Wheat followed in countless prime varieties, adapted to the climate and the soil of the different producing regions.

After the end of the ice age wheat could be grown in Europe on lands liberated from their ice cover. For centuries, it was mostly grounded and eaten in the form of porridge, the basic food of the agricultural population.

In Switzerland during the Second World War a dozen standardised varieties that were particularly satisfying, thanks to their high gluten content, replaced the hundreds of local wheat varieties having resulted from crosses between the original cereals.

Intended primarily to satisfy the needs of the population during times of scarcity, these more profitable varieties are still widely cultivated today.

"Do not eat your wheat while it is too young", otherwise no yield will grow advises an old farmer wisdom. This warning full of common sense has kept its relevance...

The return of old varieties

However, the old varieties have not disappeared. On the contrary, one rediscovers them on the front of the stage surfing on the wave of the return to a necessary biodiversity.
Can be mentioned the black starch (already grown 7000 years ago) and the gruyere red wheat, whose yield gives a straw of the most colourful effect to weave pretty coloured hats. Also should be mentioned among the local varieties the local wheat named "baffles" and "vaulion"…

Among the family of bread grains, let us not forget the Valais rye giving this dark bread which is so tasty and whose reputation is well established; a real feast with an alpine cheese and a nice glass of cold fondant wine.

Naked or coated

Among the wheats, we distinguish the blond ears with naked corn of the durum wheat, the tender wheat and the wheat. The ears of the old varieties have their grains crimped in their husks to be peeled before use. Not very practical or rational certainly, but the reward for a relatively modest effort lies in the greater wealth of these grains in magnesium, zinc, iron, lysine, copper, proteins… All these elements give a special flavour and contribute to our health.

Let's talk bread…

breadIf in our time good fresh and crispy bread does no longer necessarily accompany all our dishes, it is far from disappearing from our tables. It is the companion per excellence of cheese. And one can find an infinitive range of breads in the form of slices of bread and sandwiches, that richly and healthy garnished, are often a real meal.

Buckwheat is the exception

Like wheat, buckwheat is commonly used for making pancakes. This plant does, however, not range within the wheat family. Because, contrary to its appearance, buckwheat is not a real cereal. It is a plant of the Polygoacées family, just like its delicious sister rhubarb.

What does this matter to gourmets! What counts in their eyes as in their pallet is the lightness of these so fine pancakes, whose glutenfree flavour is perfectly digestible.

Text Simone Collet
Picture Pixabay


FLAX IN GARDENS (5th part)

Joël Raguénès - Regionalist novelist from Brittany: "And the land became ... a sea of blue flax". This book recounts an epic surrounding flax and hemp, two plants which, in the middle of the 17th century, made Brittany the foremost textile region of Europe. It is also a romance of love and adventures, a dazzling fresco of the life of a Breton family.

Extract: "Look Jan, look at those blue flowers. These are blue flax flowers. God gives them to us once a year, to teach us about beauty and how ephemeral it is. Tomorrow, after a dazzling day, they will disappear and the flower will lose its spring finery, leaving us its useful parts. ... "

Thanks to unique soil, expertise and climate, flax planted in the Seine-Maritime produces a fibre of high quality which is highly sought after. Flax cooperatives can be found throughout the Pays de Caux of the Seine-Maritime, but pretty shops and workshops also abound. A visit to the Écomusée Tradition du Lin museum will open your eyes to flax and its multiple uses.

A tip at the end: plan a stay in the Seine-Maritime in the month of June, to contemplate fields covered with a bright blue carpet against the magnificent backdrop of the Alabaster Coast...



FLAX IN GARDENS (4th part)

FlaxFlax, a symbol of poetry, or romance with a sentimental connotation? The blue of a flax flower, ranging from a nearly white light blue to a deep blue with violet reflections, on top of long flexible stems, is a manifestation of the plant's delicacy and its fragility, especially as this short-lived flower can't be picked. And yet, a tuft of pretty blue flowers in the garden will keep our green niches bright, flower after flower, every day for several weeks. Then come the pods, elegant capsules in place of the flowers that will hold until autumn and whose stems, which must be cut, as it is impossible to break the robust strands by hand, will serve as mulch or go to compost.

The annual flax 'linum grandiflorum', in vibrant colours of bright pink, red or salmon, will liven up a rocky corner, a flowery meadow with some poppies, daisies, Nigella damascena (Love-in-a-mist), cornflowers, cosmos ... sow rather late, in April or May.

We also sow 'linum usitatissimum' near the potatoes in our kitchen garden; they drive away Colorado beetles. But with or without beetles, and with or without potatoes, we plant blue flax in the kitchen garden at the end of winter, taking care to watch for slugs and snails.

Let's not forget perennial flax 'linum perenne spp', which also has pretty blue flowers and a slightly bluish foliage, which you'll encounter every year with pleasure. If your soil is rather compact, do not hesitate to add sand. It will also thrive in your rocky corner in a light soil. To be continued

To be continued


FLAX IN FIELDS (3rd part)

The long fibres are used in textiles, while tow, (or short fibres) can be used in various composite materials: sports equipment, vehicles, wind turbines, cigarette paper, banknotes ... shavings, (woody particles) emerging from the scutching process, are transformed into particle board, boiler fuel, animal litter, mulch for the garden, and other goods.


Quality is the result of the know-how of these people, who are responsible for:
• Selecting which varieties to plant
• Choosing soil quality (loamy and deep soils)
• Sowing in tight rows to obtain finer fibres
• Monitoring growth for 100 days (insects, fungi)
• Flowering for 10 days
• Grubbing up (five weeks after flowering) when the stems have a beautiful blonde colour
• Monitoring flax fields after the fibres are grubbed up and lay on the ground, when they must be flipped for the retting phase that uses micro-organisms and bacteria to dissolve or rot away much of the stem material to facilitate separation of the fibres and straw.
• Scutching: separation of the different parts

Flax will leave for the factory in the form of large round bales To be continued

To be continued

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