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Title: Maize
Original Title: Maïs
Volume and Page: Vol. 9 (1765), pp. 888–889
Author: Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt (biography)
Translator: David S. Shellabarger III [University of Michigan,]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Maize." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by David S. Shellabarger III. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2011. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Maïs," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 9. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Maize." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by David S. Shellabarger III. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2011. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Maïs," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 9:888–889 (Paris, 1765).

Maize is, of all the plants, the one whose cultivation affects the most people, since all of America and part of Asia, Africa, and Turkey live solely on maize . It is widely grown in a few warm European countries, like Spain, and should be grown more widely in France.

An ear of maize provides a larger quantity of kernels than any ear of wheat. There are generally eight rows of kernels on an ear, more if the soil is good. Each row contains at least thirty kernels, and each of these kernels provides more flour than any of our grains of wheat.

However, maize, although vital to the life of so many peoples, is prone to mishaps. It does not ripen in several locations in America until near the end of September, so that the rains that come then often cause it to rot on the stalk, and birds eat it when it is tender. To be sure, nature has covered it with a thick skin which protects against the rain for a long time; but birds, which are difficult to protect against, devour large quantities through this skin.

There are three or four known types of maize in America: maize from Virginia grows to a height of seven or eight feet; maize from New England does not grow as high; there are still shorter varieties as one goes further into the country.

Americans plant maize from March until June. The wild Indians, who know nothing of our dividing of a year by months, know the sowing season of this plant when certain trees of their region begin to bud, or upon the arrival of certain fish in their rivers.

The method for planting the Indian corn, practiced by the English in America, is to form even furrows over the entire extent of a field at a distance of about five or six feet, plow new furrows crosswise at the same distance, and then sow the seeds where the furrows cross. They cover the seeds with earth using a spade, or by forming another furrow around the back with the plow, which flips the soil back over. When weeds start to damage the Indian corn, they replow the soil where the weeds are, cut them, destroy them, and vigorously promote vegetation with these various plowings.

It is, let us say in passing, this fine method of plowing maize , in use for a long time by the English in America that has been adopted and applied by Mr. Tull today with much success in the cultivation of wheat.

As soon as the stalk has acquired some strength, the farmers support it by piling up soil around the base, and continue to prop it up until it has grown ears; they then add more to the small mound, raising it even more, after that they do not touch it again until the harvest. The Indians, to animate these clods of earth under which the maize is planted, place two or three fish of the genus they call aloof into the mounds; this fish heats and fertilizes this little mound to the point where it produces double. The English have enjoyed this practice of the Indians in their establishments where fish costs nothing except the price of its shipping. They use, with admirable success, heads and guts of hake.

The spaces that have been plowed with the intention of destroying the weeds are not lost. Horse beans are grown here, which, growing with the maize attach themselves to the stalks for support. In the middle, which is empty, one grows pumpkins , which grow very well, or after the last plowing, one plants seeds of turnips, which are harvested in abundance for winter when the maize is harvested.

When the maize is ripe, it must be harvested. Some strip the stalk of its grain in the field; others put the ears in bunches, and hang them in a few places to store them for the entire winter, but one of the best methods is to lay them out on the ground, and cover over them with clumps of grass and compost. The knowledgeable Indians have this practice, and found it to work very well.

The principal use of maize is to reduce it into flour for different needs: here is how the Indians who are not familiar with our art of grinding prepare it: They put their maize on a hot plate, nevertheless without burning it. After having thus toasted it, they crush it in their mortars and sift it. They keep this flour in bags for their food, and bring it when they travel to eat on the road and to make cakes from it.

Well ground maize produces flour which, when separated from bran, is very white, and makes very good bread, good porridge with milk, and good puddings.

Mexican doctors make medicinal tea with the Indian corn for their patients, and this idea is not at all bad, because this grain has much in common with barley.

We know that this grain is very agreeable to livestock and poultry, and that it works marvelously to fatten them. It makes a wine-like liquor, and can be distilled into a fiery spirit. Americans do not just use the grain but the entire plant: they split the stalks when they are dry, cut them into several filaments, which they use to make baskets of different shapes and sizes. Also, this stalk in its fresh state is full of sap which can be made into a syrup that is as sweet as sugar. It has not been confirmed whether this sugar would crystallize, but all the appearances are there. Finally, maize serves a purpose in many other Indian customs, of which the curious will find the details in the Comentarios reales de los Incas by Garcilaso de la Vega, I. VIII. C. ix, and in Jean de Laet’s Description des Indes occidentales. I. VII. C. iij.