Kaylene Beaujolais

Multimedia journalist, broadcaster and producer. The elegance of the 1920s meets gritty, golden era hip-hop.

‘Three Sisters Nixtamal’ Radio Documentary

Posted by on Jun 11, 2014

‘Three Sisters Nixtamal’ from Kaylene Beaujolais on Vimeo.

Produced by Kaylene Beaujolais

Host Intro:

Corn is the real traditional food of the Americas. Humans have had a relationship planting and processing it for thousands of years. Many American ancestors relied on corn, or maize (MAZE), for much of their nourishment. In today’s marketplace corn has journeyed far from it’s roots and is more of a commodity, than sustaining food. A small business in Portland, Oregon is bringing back ancient ways of preparing corn, from seed to table. Producer Kaylene Beaujolais (BO-JO-LAY), with Elemental Radio, has this story.

KAYLENE: Pedro Azcarate-Ferbel and Adriana Ferbel-Azcarate are making masa and tortillas the traditional way, allowing consumers, in the Pacific Northwest, to taste corn’s true flavor.

pedropourcorn01PEDRO: We’re here at the People’s Food Cooperative farmers market, selling tortillas for Three Sisters Nixtamal. (make your own)

We get the opportunity not only to provide a fresh tortilla at the market that’s never been refrigerated, these were made this morning. I can also sell the masa and give people the tools to make their own tortillas in their own kitchen.

ADRIANA: My name is Adriana Ferbel Azcarate, I’m from Mexico and I’m a naturopathic doctor and I’m dedicating right now to make organic corn tortillas that are made in the traditional way. My aunt, she was my mother’s, brother’s wife and she cooked really really good. She had all these secret recipes. Everyone wanted her recipes but she didn’t want to share them all. (inherit :26) When she died, my uncle asked me, “Would you like your aunt’s tortilla machine?” I pretty much inherit that. He asked, “Would you take that to United States?” And I said yeah, why not? I felt really excited, like oh, ok, I’m being shown this is something I have to continue.


KAYLENE: The name, Three Sisters, originates form the symbiotic growing of maize, beans and squash. Practiced by the indigenous people throughout the Americas. The corn becomes the stalk for the beans to climb. The beans fix the nitrogen on the earth and the squash then covers the ground, keeping moisture in and bugs out.

PEDRO: This is our blue corn, and you can see it’s different varieties. Each kernel has a different story to tell. I’m always inspired by the corn itself, knowing it came from this wild plant: teocintle, (TAY-OH-CINT-LAY). I’m honored to be working with that corn spirit.

ADRIANA: The products we make and sell are the corn itself, already cooked, as nixtamal, we sell it as posole or hominy so you can cook it a little longer and you can make posole soup or we grind it and we make the blue masa and yellow masa. So we have yellow corn tortillas, blue corn tortillas, spinach, cilantro, jalepeno tortillas, guajillo pepper tortillas and enchiladas potosinas of course….

KAYLENE: Pedro and Adriana’s eight year old son, Santiago Olin (OH-LEEN), loves to be involved.

SANTIAGO: I usually help out at the farmers markets and I do a lot of stuff. Usually I walk around and eat stuff. I help pressing the masa and making it in a tortilla and then making it round and then put it on the griddle and doing it.


KAYLENE: Three Sisters prep kitchen is just down the street from Pedro, Adriana, and Santiago’s home. Full of stainless steel vats, palettes of corn and other processing equipment.

PEDRO: I’m stirring the corn in this big tank, so I’m trying to get it to cook evenly. This is sort of the processing that was discovered thousands of years ago that allows the corn to become usable for making masa and tortillas, but this whole process, the steeping in lime, which is ground up limestone, it’s a food grade lime that we use, calcium hydroxide is it’s name and it’s pretty amazing cause calcium hydroxide, limestone beds around the world come from millions of year old sea beds.

KAYLENE: Cooking the corn in lime is what makes it nixtamalized corn. When maize is prepared that way, it has benefits over unprocessed corn. It is more easily ground and it’s nutritional value increases. It tastes and smells better. Most store bought tortillas contain little nutritional value.

ADRIANA: We do it 100% organic, 100% nixtamal corn, we don’t mix any other flours in it, we don’t put any preservatives in it, that’s the difference.

PEDRO: This is the yellow corn and this is ready. Because it’s a broken corn I’ve got a lot of broken pieces. We prefer not to use broken corn but this is what we got from our supplier and our supplier told us that was the nature of commodity corn. We’re looking for another supplier.

ADRIANA: Farmers don’t have the money to be able to de-grain, take all the seeds from the cob and dry it out. So we end up fighting with bigger companies that do that for them and then they sell it to you. Sometimes the quality for a small business is hard because they will sell the product they have to bigger companies than us so we’re always struggling to find from different sources.

PEDRO: If we’re gonna feed people, in a sustainable way, we’re gonna need some kind of storage crops in order to feed people and we should be thinking about the first foods of the Americas. Corn really offers the opportunity to create nutritious food for large numbers of people in compact urban areas. You know, there’s nothing like a fresh tortilla, so a lot of people will talk about their experiences going to Mexico, or recollections of their grandmother making tortillas in the home. It’s like fresh baked bread, it’s a soul food. It’s a food that really connects people to their families, their communities, their culture. heartsplate

ADRIANA: Well, people will love to make their own tortillas…..

SANTIAGO: The taste of the tortilla after, it’s really good, I don’t really know how to describe the taste but it’s a good one.

PEDRO: Would you like to try a tortilla? Yes…….

SANTIAGO: Three Sisters, me encanta (EN-CONT-AH)!





Three Sisters Nixtamal Website
Three Sisters Facebook