The Magic of Oneida White Corn Soup

Imagine a world where food holds the key to not only satisfying our taste buds but also solving health problems. Meet Rebecca Webster and Laura Manthe, two cousins who share a profound passion for Oneida white corn. This ancient variety, with roots tracing back to the tribe’s ancestral homelands in upstate New York, has become their secret weapon in creating a healthier community.

Rebecca is quick to boast about Laura’s corn soup recipe, which has gained fame within the reservation. Traditionally, white corn soup was reserved for special occasions like ceremonies and funerals due to the scarcity of the crop. However, these two cousins are on a mission to make it a staple in the Oneida diet. They have formed a cooperative to collect seeds and grow corn using traditional practices, preserving both their heritage and their health.

The process begins with hand-picking and hand-husking the corn. Over the winter months, the corn is carefully dried in ornate braids. The next step involves cooking the corn in hardwood ashes, which removes the hull and allows the kernels to expand in size. This transformation releases niacin, a vitamin known for its cholesterol-lowering properties. It’s not a quick process, as the hulling alone can take up to three hours. Once the corn is ready, it is combined with dry kidney and pinto beans, along with smoked pork hocks, creating a flavorsome blend.

For Rebecca and Laura, adhering to traditional Oneida ways is more than just a culinary journey. It connects them to their cultural heritage, helping to bridge the gap left by years of displacement and assimilation. Rebecca reflects on her own upbringing, sharing how her parents forbade her from interacting with tribal members in the Oneida longhouse, causing her to grow up speaking only English. However, through the preparation of Oneida corn soup, she is reclaiming her identity and revitalizing her community.

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The impact of traditional corn soup goes beyond the reservation boundaries. Rebecca and Laura have fostered a mutually beneficial relationship with the Menominee Tribe, whose members burn hardwood for heating their homes. This exchange allows them to access a sustainable source of hardwood ashes, a crucial ingredient in the corn soup preparation. In return, the Menominee receive dehydrated corn from Rebecca and Laura, ensuring that the tradition continues to thrive beyond the reservation.

Laura, ever the innovator, is constantly pushing the boundaries. She explores new uses for corn flour, incorporating it into recipes like banana bread and fritters. The cousins are also eager to expand their culinary horizons by embracing traditional recipes from other tribes. They recount their adventures in Oaxaca, Mexico, where they introduced their dehydrated corn to friends who added it to their famous Posole soup. The locals were captivated by the unique flavor, as it was unlike the corn grown in their own village. This culinary exchange continued as they embarked on a trip to Ecuador, where gigantic tortillas made with their corn were shared with the Quechua people. It was a beautiful exchange of knowledge, ideas, and seeds, representing a three-way trade that enriched everyone involved.

Rebecca and Laura’s dedication to reviving Oneida white corn and the traditional preparation of corn soup is a testament to the power of food in preserving culture and promoting health. Their journey is an inspiration, reminding us of the rich heritage within our own communities. So why not dive into the flavors of Oneida white corn soup and experience the magic for yourself?

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