The practice of milpa was so central to the daily life of the Mesoamerican people that it was prominently featured in many civilizations’ religions. Though the specific details of ancient Aztec beliefs remain unclear, the importance of corn (or maíz ) is a well-documented historical fact. The famous Aztec calendar, in fact, was organized in part by the sowing and harvesting of corn, a tradition that honored the god Centeotl and the goddess Chicomecoatl, both credited with the creation of the staple crop. The two gods were prominently featured in the art and social tradition of the civilization. The visages of Chicomecoatl, often depicted carrying ears of corn, and Centeotl, usually shown with an ear of corn on his headdress, were painted, carved, or otherwise preserved on countless historical artifacts. Many scholars, however, remain baffled by the complex mythology that surrounds each deity. Though a definitive interpretation of each god doesn’t exist, the Aztec tradition clearly posits the two at the center of life and religion.
The Mesoamerican region shared the same general beliefs, though specific gods and myths were often renamed or reinterpreted to suit each individual civilization. As such, the Mayan religion, like that of the Aztecs, was also centered around the cultivation of corn. The Mayans believed that the gods created man from the kernels of corn. Ixmucane, the grandmother goddess credited with the creation of man, was worshipped alongside a host of other deities that ruled natural phenomena, animals, and man. Unfortunately, due to the Spanish conquest of the region and the subsequent intolerance of indigenous practices, much of the rich cultural history of the various Mesoamerican civilizations has been lost.
Though the practice of milpa originally emerged from ancient Olmec technology, the usage of corn, squash, and beans came to influence the cuisines of many different nations and cultures in North and South America. The sheer sustainability of milpa has enabled these three core ingredients to be cultivated throughout the two continents, where they developed unique flavors and influenced distinct societies. Milpa’s origins may lie several thousand years before the common era, but it continues to leave its mark on the world of today, both in culinary and cultural communities.
From American cornbread to Venezuelan cachapas, corn has flourished as a defining ingredient of many cuisines in the Western Hemisphere. The menu at Milpa Grille strives to honor and reflect the culinary variety that blossomed due to the cultivation of the three milpa crops, regardless of country or culture of origin.