SAN LUIS, Colo. — For farmer Arnie Valdez, few things in life conjure the senses of his home in the San Luis Valley more than fresh-roasted corn chicos, warm from the family horno before they are dried.
Chicos are ears of corn steam-baked in a traditional outdoor adobe oven, or horno, then dried in the sun, often for winter food storage. The kernels are reconstituted when prepared as a hearty and nutritious ingredient primarily in soups and meat stews.
The practice of seasonally drying corn dates back to this land’s First Peoples. Evidence of chicos have been found in horno remains at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon.
Valdez learned the practice of growing, harvesting, and making chicos from his parents — who learned from their parents. “They farmed, and made chicos every fall,” he said. Valdez is a descendant of early pobladores, settlers to what was Ute land.
“To make chicos, we grow a heirloom variety of white corn called maiz del concho, or concho corn,” said Valdez from his heritage farm southeast of San Luis.