25. Castraters wanted

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     Cherche castreurs    âge minimum 16 ans

période à partir du 25 juillet

Advertisements like this pop up in the local papers at this time of year. Aimed mainly at students they target those with transport, particularly scooters which kids can ride at 14 (after training of course). The maize fields can be well out town but it’s a useful earner in the long summer holiday. And the point of it all? Basically, it involves removing the male flowers of plants to control pollination in the production of hybrids. Lecture over.

Madame and I have always lived near maize fields down here in the SW. It is truly an amaizeing plant (sorry); you can almost see it growing. In a matter of a few weeks it is taller than you are. Thought to have been cultivated in Mexico thousands of years ago it’s the staple food in many parts of the world; it’s unlikely a day will go by without you coming into contact with one of its products.

What are they? Too many to touch on here, but we’ll look at some later. An American survey said that in a typical grocery store 4,000 items will list corn ingredients on the label. That is a conservative estimate. 10,000 might be nearer the mark. Anyway, Corn it will be from now on; it’s shorter and easier to type than maize.

The celebrations here after harvest have a South American theme

It’s a symmetrical time of year here. Walking down the hill this week you could see a line of orange dots below moving between two rows. These were the castraters, with their fluorescent orange caps, as worn by the hunters. It may not be the hunting season but an unidentified object moving in the corn might be mistaken for a sanglier or wild boar. North of here last year a tourist travelling along the A63 autoroute was shot in the shoulder. A boar hunt was taking place in the area.

By the time I’d reached the bottom of the hill the castraters had taken off, well, most of them

These students were doing the castrating by hand. Farmers who can afford it hire a machine, which just leaves the kids to finish off what it misses.

Occasionally a whole row will be stripped completely, leaving a narrow corridor. With temperatures exceeding 30 degrees for days on end the plants, like us, need water. There is no shortage of it; a nearby lake provides that.

These sprinklers don’t look up to the job
A few kilometres from the house is this stunningly beautiful lake which Madame runs round and is the source of the water for the crop

Remember him – the ‘Jolly Green Giant’? Created in Minnesota he was painted green because the company originally canned peas before corn. He’s now just plain ‘Green Giant’. Why he is no longer jolly I can’t say. Have you been one of the 10,000 annual visitors to his statue? Every year Father Christmas still visits the Giant to put a long red scarf around his neck to keep him warm for the winter. (Today’s useless fact).

For many of us sweet corn means cobs spread with butter, salted and cooked on the BBQ. But that is a minute fraction of the maize crop. Here it’s grown for cattle feed, with or without cobs, or the whole field shredded and kept for winter feed.

Nearby is a field with these notices around it. This crop is reserved for seed

Let’s consider that spurious claim that your local supermarket could stock 4,000+ items that contain corn ingredients and see if there is a grain (sorry) of truth in it. When you clean your teeth do you know that the toothpaste might contain a compound derived from corn to make it taste sweeter? Why would you?

Do you peel and seal? Covid has boosted sales of self-adhesive envelopes so you don’t have to lick them.

An old favourite
What has this to do with corn?

Take the last one. When we fill up the car we avoid fuel which may contain ethanol  (E10 for instance). Why? There is a noticeable decrease in performance and the seals in an older car are not as robust as a newer model and ethanol could cause leaks.

Surprised? Blush and eye shadow often contain zea mays, which is another name for corn.

Corn has come a long way since the 1900s, when Dr. John Harvey Kellogg attracted crowds to his sanatorium in Michigan. Best not to research what went on in them. Not that they ate cornflakes there. Let’s take a look at one of the world’s favourite foods.

The only time Madame and I have eaten in a roadside diner in the States corn-fed beef (i.e. maize) was on the menu. What are the chips/fries cooked in? Corn oil probably. The sauces and colourings? Corn-based as well.

On a local level we query the wisdom of growing the same crop in the same field year after year. To do so requires fertilizer, containing chemicals. While the soil might look rich it is gradually being destroyed. In America the corn crop can be divided three ways – into cattle/poultry feed, to make ethanol and the remainder for human consumption. The tide is turning though and maybe the titanic food corporations will soon have to watch their backs.

Published by johnsblog2021

These posts take a light-hearted look at life, mainly in France, during and after lockdown

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