It’s corn shucking season here in the maghrib! I’ve spent multiple afternoons with my host family (and my host family’s family) sitting around/on large piles of corn and shucking for all I’m worth. Corn in Morocco isn’t exactly as I think of corn in America (not that most corn in America is really corn on the cob style… ethanol or HFCS, anyone?). Most corn in Morocco ends up turning into cornmeal/flour, with all the excess parts of the corn turning into livestock food. How is this done, you might ask?

Well, first the corn gets planted around June (it was not knee high by the fourth of July), generally accompanied by a lot of manure on a field freshly tilled by a team of two mules, a huge wooden/metal plow, and a team of three or so men. There are no rows of corn here, the corn is sown evenly across the field.  The men seem to be in charge of the planting, manure allocation, and then making sure the fields get watered appropriately (by diverting ditches, which is done by moving dirt/rock piles from one place in the ditch to another). The fields are watered by flood irrigation. The ladies make sure the field is weeded appropriately (all proceeds go to the livestock) and then, when they feel the time is appropriate, start harvesting the corn. The harvest started in September and is finishing up now – most of the fields are given a month to rest before wheat or barley is planted in it’s place (which is in turn harvested just before corn planting time).  To harvest corn, the ladies either pluck the stalks of corn from the ground (if the ground is wet), or, more commonly, cut the base with their scythe. Once a large amount is gathered, the stalks are taken to a location generally near the livestock (sometimes in the home, or near a drying surface). At this new location, all of the ears of corn are taken off the stalk – the stalk is now cow/sheep/mule/goat/chicken food. Then all of the corn gets shucked – this is made easier by the fact that most of the corn husks have been given the opportunity to dry on the stalk. A dry husk is infinitely easier to shuck than a wet husk.  After the shucking, the corn is all laid outside to dry. Not all families are so fortunate, but most families have a piece of flat land on which to dry their crops – the shucked corn goes here, mixed with a rake at regular intervals until it’s sunbaked and dry. At some point after this – and I’ve only seen this from afar once, although I suspect it will start happening often – the ladies get together to rhythmically beat the living bejeesus out of the corn with large pieces of wood (I hesitate to call the pieces of wood sticks or paddles, although they have properties of both.) This serves the purpose of separating the kernels from the cob, and provides the ladies an opportunity to bust out some call and response songs of the like I had not heard before. I have no idea how the corn gets seperated from the cob after this – I’ll have to report later, but I assume they use some sort of sieve. Or maybe a machine? I’m also not sure if the corn gets washed immediately after – I’m guessing not – but, like the wheat, I’m sure that the ladies wash the corn in the ditch before taking it to the ‘motor’ to get ground into flour.

My current favorite part of that process is shucking the corn, because it is the one agricultural activity in which not only am I not slower than the average Moroccan, but I show a certain finesse and my speed is remarked upon positively. Besides, there’s something a bit meditative about sitting by a big pile of corn and shucking for several hours straight.  There’s also something very delightfully ‘fall’ about shucking corn with a very conversational family as the sun sets behind the mountains and the chill sets in… the only thing that could make it better would be mulled cider. Mmmmm apple cider.

On an unrelated note, fall is also quince season here. Quinces quietly made their appearance as the figs went out of season – late Ramadan, so early September. They’re still going strong (I think).  It’s possibly they’re still not ripe, because they’re really hard and almost always cooked in sugar water until they are sweet and soft and delicious – maybe if they were harvested in November we could eat them like apples, I have no idea. But I love them.  And that’s really all I have to say about Quinces.

On a book related note, I just finished Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, a read I highly recommend to my environmentally minded friends, particularly if they are of the type to love the desert. There are a few places where my not-so inner modern environmentalist cringes – must he roll that tire into the canyon? – but mostly I just love his passion (and his prose).  I’ve started on Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, a book which I had never heard of but whose cover announces itself as a National Bestseller. I picked it up as I got home today and promptly devoured the first 70 pages – can’t love this book enough.

I had intended, originally, to veer this entry to another subject entirely, but as normally happens I wrote in a rather unfiltered train of thought sort of way. As I’d rather be reading than writing right now, I’ll just leave with a promise of another update tomorrow. Au revoir!


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