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Celebrating 'Life' and Nourishment at the Green Corn Festival

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Green Corn celebrations have been around probably as long as corn, and that is a very long time. Our ancestors knew the value of their main nourishment; it means “life” in many languages.

Gratitude comes naturally to Native people. The first corn of each season is marked by celebrations filled with forgiveness, harmony, legends, and food for all attending. Dancing and socializing are major parts of this honoring that is as varied as the people who participate.

Green corn ceremonies generally take place in late summer and are tied to the ripening of the corn crops.

Most cultural areas in the country have their own traditions and recipes for corn, and they combine these with their contemporary foods to create a feast festival.

Each year, I look forward to the Green Corn Festival at the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Connecticut. This year it seemed bigger and better than ever despite the sweltering heat. There is always dancing, drums (this year from Arizona), craft vendors, children’s activities such as face painting and corn-husk doll making, all manner of foods to sample or buy, plus storytelling to tie it all together.

Interestingly, there were many new Native American faces; those I met came east from all over the country looking for work here in Connecticut and New England. Other attendees had brought new friends and old, because it is such a great experience—a day well spent.

The museum is full of history and knowledgeable staff who are willing to share and help visitors with any and all inquiries. I noticed that a lot of folks asked me if there was any meat, dairy or seafood in the corn chowder I made and was handing out samples of. I said no, just a bacon bit here or there that could be easily bypassed. One strapping young man came by with his wife and baby about 14 months old. I offered some to all of them. The father was glad to try it; his wife took one once her husband raved how delicious it was. The baby boy was slight of build; his mother said he was a fussy eater. His dad gave him a taste and the baby was eating and asking for more, more, more. I just had to get a container full for them to take home. I have a feeling they will be eating a lot more corn-based foods in their house.

Dairy-Free Corn Chowder

You can use almost any combination of the ingredients, however, the secret for best taste is to refrigerate overnight before reheating the next day. It gives the flavors time to marry.

For a large crowd, I used:

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5 pounds Yukon gold potatoes (washed, skin-on, bite-size cubed pieces)

5 pounds Maine all-purpose potatoes (washed, skin-on, bite-size cubed pieces)

3 quarts (or more if needed) chicken broth or water

2 medium Vidalia onions, chopped

3 large stalks celery, chopped

2 strips of bacon, cooked and set aside

8 cups of corn kernels in every combination you can find: fresh, canned, some hominy, some frozen, some of those baby cobs cut in ½-inch chunks, or just use good old classic corn kernels

Seasonings to taste: Salt, black pepper, cumin, cayenne, parsley, and anything else your heart desires.

Cook the bacon, drain and set aside. Sauté the onion and celery in 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat or in fat-free oil.

Cut up the potatoes, cubed into bite-sized pieces and cook in broth and/or water until soft when stuck with a fork. Add the corn, sautéed onion and celery. Combine ½ cup of corn starch with the same amount cold water and add to pot to thicken. Sprinkle bacon on all, add herbs and seasonings, and let simmer about 20 minutes to ½ hour. Let cool and adjust seasonings to your own taste; add other favorites at this time. Refrigerate overnight. Reheat to serve.

Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.