Iroquois White Corn
Story By Diana Lambdin Meyer
Wherever you live, autumn is a glorious time to take a road trip into the country to witness harvest in America’s farming communities, the culmination of so many months of hard work and investment.
That’s especially the case on a small farm in upstate New York. But despite all of that hard work, the yield in this little field of corn will be about four bushels per acre. Compare that to the national average of more than 200 bushels per acre of corn.
But this corn, this field, is special.
This is Iroquois White Corn, planted by hand from heirloom seeds that date back nearly 1400 years in the Finger Lakes area. The seeds are, as you might imagine, GMO free. These eight acres have also been weeded and watered by hand all summer, growing in mounds that include beans and squash. The field has not been treated with fertilizer or pesticides.
This region is the native home of the Seneca tribe, a part of the Iroquois Confederacy. For centuries, this type of corn was the dominant crop and fundamental food source for the Iroquois people. Yet it was all but wiped out in the mid-1600s when the Ganondagan village was burned to the ground by the French in a fur trade dispute.
Thanks to a few thoughtful seed savers and some successful planting here and there over the years, Iroquois White Corn has survived is once again becoming a staple of healthy eating in central New York.
The Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor is focal point of the corn’s rebirth. It is here where visitors can volunteer to work in the field or process the corn once it is harvested. Of course, you can also simply purchase a bag and learn about the Iroquois Confederacy while visiting the region.
“It’s very high in nutrients and low glycemic, unlike sweet corn that most people consume,” says Lauren Jimerson, project manager with Iroquois White Corn. “It doesn’t taste like sweet corn at all and you can’t eat it off the cob. It’s more earthy, like hominy.”
Jimerson coordinates the volunteer effort that brings Iroquois White Corn to the public. Almost every step of the process is performed by volunteers, many who are travelers on vacation for a day or two in the Finger Lakes region.
After the harvest in mid-October, in which volunteer hands are also needed, volunteers may participate in a husking bee. Husking, for the uninitiated, is pulling or folding the husk back to expose the kernels still on the cob. The husk is then braided, creating a rope-like device by which to hang the corn to dry throughout the winter.
After the ears have been shucked, the kernels are roasted in a coffee roaster in preparation for grinding into flour. Volunteers may do that as well, followed by bagging and labeling the flour. A number of gift shops in the Finger Lakes region sell Iroquois White Corn, as well as the Wegmans grocery store chain. You may also order online.
The Ganondagan State Historic Site encompasses 570 acres of hiking trails, picnic shelters, gardens and a recreated bark longhouse representative of the 17th century Seneca village once located here. Cooking classes featuring Iroquois White Corn are among the activities.
Get A Taste…
Here are a few recipes featuring Iroquois White Corn:
Plan A Trip
Diana Lambdin Meyer is a southern Illinois farm girl who grew up in the Shawnee Hills, Illinois’ only viticulture area. Now based in Kansas City, Missouri, she and her husband Bruce travel the world in search of good stories and good photos. Follow their travels at mojotraveler.com. www.mojotraveler.com