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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Spending The Day With One Of The Three Sisters
by Oneida Indian Nation
credits: photos courtesy of Oneida Indian Nation

Oneidas, American Indians Learn How to Prepare Corn Soup

Following a White Corn harvest characterized as robust, Ron Patterson (Wolf Clan) brought this vital member of the Three Sisters to the Oneida Cookhouse in order to show Oneida members and other interested American Indians the art of making traditional corn soup.

"I thought it would be nice to show the community how the process is done," explained Ron as he oversaw the kernels being washed in ash and boiling on a hot stove. The whole process takes hours so a Saturday morning event was in order.

One of the first steps in making corn soup is to boil the white corn in ash.
Ron Patterson (Wolf Clan) recently lead the class on making traditional corn soup. The process takes hours so the class was held on a Saturday morning in the Oneida Nation Cookhouse.

From planting and maintaining the corn, to harvesting and storing, this member of the Three Sisters is a vital part of the Haudenosaunee diet and culture. The corn itself is planted along with beans and squash in a process that is known as companion planting – each plant supplies and nourishes the others as it matures.

When harvested the corn is dried and stored for long periods of times and prepared as soup, bread and mush. Corn supplemented dried meats, nuts and rice, thus helping Oneidas through harsh winters. Even the husks and leaves of the corn are used as artisans turn them into dolls.

Celeste Gardner (Wolf Clan) cubes bacon to add to corn soup.

As the smell of corn filled the air Celeste Gardner (Wolf Clan) said she wanted to attend the class to learn about Oneida traditions. "I didn't grow up with it. This is all new to me," said Celeste, who explained she moved back to the area approximately one year ago. "I've had corn soup before at the corn ceremony. I like it. I wish my kids were here to experience the same thing. When you attend the ceremonies it's peaceful."

"I was raised by my dad, so I didn't really know any of this," she said, adding that corn soup, "it's a hearty, good soup."

Helen Jones (Turtle Clan) recalled days past when she used to make corn soup by herself. For Helen corn soup reminds her of ceremonies. "They always have it at the ceremonies. Sometimes they have different kinds like a colored corn soup, or the one with vegetables in it. There's different kinds depending on the ceremony."

Her earliest memories of the traditional food was with her grandmother. "She always took me to the longhouse to all the ceremonies but she never told me anything. She didn't explain to me what was happening, why they did this, but I always went. I was always there with her. She talked mostly native anyway. She didn't talk English so I guess that's why she really couldn't explain."

Joining Helen was daughter Colleen (Turtle Clan) who confessed she hasn't made the soup before but she had helped her grandfather, William Powless, during the lengthy process.

"I was probably about 4 or 5," she recalled. "He used to get up early … and he sold it during softball games. They had a huge field behind them so he'd get up and he'd sell that. And he had the corner store so he would sell the corn soups."

"I had to do the baskets. He would boil the corn and all that, and then we'd go out in the back and he would rinse it. He would shake the basket and I would take the corn, and take the eyes off. Just go through that and help him."

And during that long process, just like the class held recently in the cookhouse, family and friends would gather, chat and reminisce. The time spent preparing the soup created bonds and in the process would create new memories.

To Colleen the soup brings to mind the Creator. "You know, that's what I think of," she said. "That's part of making it, part of eating it. I think of the Creator and, of course, my grandfather."

From left Colleen Jones (Turtle Clan), Celeste Gardner (Wolf Clan), and Ron Patterson (Wolf Clan) inspect corn kernels in preparation for corn soup.
From left are Teyekahli:yóse Edwards (Wolf Clan), Ron Patterson (Wolf Clan), Celeste Gardner (Wolf Clan), Helen Jones (Turtle Clan) and Colleen Jones (Wolf Clan).
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