Situated near the roadside border of of Iroquois White Corn inherited from the Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, leafy corn stalks stand resolute in the foreground of the 17-century bark longhouse replica.
When the French Marquis de Denonville torched the former Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) town in 1687—including the region’s central granary with a 500,000-bushel corn supply— thousands of refugees fled to neighboring Native communities. Some carried corn for replanting.
Today, Ganondagan reflects both the physical memory of the land and the cultural continuity of Haudenosaunee people in Western New York. The Iroquois White Corn Project is one of numerous educational operations embraced by Site Manager G. Peter Jemison (Heron Clan, Seneca), and the proceeds support year-round programming at the site. Native and non-Native collaborators, including RIT, Friends of Ganondagan, and SUNY Oswego, transcend centuries of historical trauma by cultivating new stores generations of seed swapping. The people and the corn: they grow together. And by extension, they reclaim the land, planting and hand-harvesting a future from the past with each seasonal cycle.
The late founder and social activist, John Mohawk (Turtle Clan, Seneca), envisioned a cultural revitalization opportunity through the Slow Food movement for Haudenosaunee food customs. Nearly 20 years later, the success is overwhelming.
“It’s not like a sweet corn that you eat off the cob,” explains Kim Morf, production and project manager. “We do it the way our ancestors did it: The hull is really thick and it’s either burned or cooked off. Traditionally, we boil it in a hardwood ash.” This alkali process expands the nutrient profile, releasing vitamin B and adding calcium. Hulled white corn, white corn flour, and roasted white corn flour are available in one-pound bags. The kernels are washed in ash splint baskets, dehydrated, and a portion is toasted in a coffee roaster.
Soaking the hulled corn overnight reveals a meaty texture and a savory profile to complement a wide variety of dishes. Recipes on the packages and website are a hybrid of Haudenosaunee foodways and contemporary culinary trends, and IWCP welcomes successful experiments too. “Ginger’s Corn Cookies,” which call for the roasted corn flour, are even better half-dipped in melted dark chocolate and garnished with a dusting of white corn flour. A nutty scoop of the roasted corn flour adds protein and density to a smoothie, and the low glycemic index provides a wide variety of diabetic alternatives.
For Morf, “it’s all about connections and relationships, getting back our connections to the land, and taking care of Mother Earth. Our ancestors talk about these health benefits in slow food—that’s family and community involvement too.”