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The Stalk of Life

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Green Corn festivals, taking place all over Indian country between May and October, celebrate the ripening of the first corn of the year. I recently attended the festival at the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Connecticut, where I served visitors free samples of corn chowder cooked over an open fire pit. The visitors listened as I recounted the legends and history surrounding corn (maize) and Native lifeways.

I explained that the Creator, the great spirit, is thanked for this corn, as well as for the rain and sun that nurture it. The corn festival is regarded as a time to renew one’s spirit and express gratitude for corn, the staple of life. Maize actually means “life” in many Native languages. Every portion of the plant is used in some way: the kernels for food, the husks for tamales and dolls, the silk for tea and the stalks for fodder.

Each year, my family plants a couple of corn varieties to reflect on the differences in flavor, texture and growing process or challenges. This year, a raccoon destroyed our butter-sugar hybrid variety. But a couple of rows of Mohegan white corn—a gift from a Mohegan elder—are still growing strong.

Fresh Corn & Lima Bean Succotash

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2 cups of fresh corn (6 ears, kernels scraped off)
2 cups fresh picked lima beans, hulled from pods
3 slices of bacon, cooked and drained, set aside
4 tablespoons butter
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of cumin

Cook the corn and beans in a pot of boiling water until tender. Drain. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the corn and beans. Stir and sauté a few minutes, adding the salt, pepper and just a pinch of cumin. Crumble cooked bacon over top and 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 them and her husband in Madison, Connecticut.