Listen to Audio
- 2 lbs smoked ham hocks (shank or other smoked meat, like turkey legs)
- pork meat, such as ham (or pork chops)
- 10 cups water
- 1 large can or 2.5 cups of homemade hominy
- 2 cans or 1.5 cups dry beans white beans
- 5 cups chicken stock
- 1 medium onion
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1.5 tablespoons olive oil
- Cook ham hocks, shank or both in water for a number of hours to get a smoky, salty broth.
- Take out the meat, strain brown for impurities and cut up the meat. I also add the extra pork, like cooked diced pork chops into the broth. They can be cooked in the broth, too.
- Double this broth with low sodium chicken broth.
- Cook the beans in a pressure cooker and add the pork broth (I love pressure cookers). Otherwise, you can use canned white beans.
- Sauté a whole, chopped white onion in a pan and return it to the broth with meat and beans.
- Add the hominy. We use our own and that makes this special. Otherwise, you can use canned hominy. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
- Note: Hominy is made by cooking dry field type corn in a lye or basic solution. We generally do this using hardwood ash for lye and an outdoor fire. It can also be done on the stove top using cal, also known as pickling lime.
- Additional notes: I also like to add winter squash that I have dehydrated earlier in the fall. Then, you have all three sisters in this rich bone broth.
Corn has been growing for thousands of years across North America, and tribes have been making corn soup for generations. Each tribe has their own method and strain of corn for cooking this traditional dish.
Sarah Gordon Altiman, or Niigaanosekwe in Ojibwe, is a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. She also has ties to the Fond du Lac Band in Minnesota, and she’s making a Potawatomi-style corn soup handed down from her husband Vern’s family.
“What I’m going to do is just take some of the meat off of the pork neck bones and put it back into the stock,” she explained.
The recipe is made with smoked meat and a white corn variety that comes from
Walpole Island First Nation, which is home to a community of Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Ottawa in Canada. She cuts up the meat and pulls out a bag of white dent corn that’s been made into hominy through nixtamalization. It’s a process where kernels are cooked and steeped in an alkaline solution like calcium hydroxide or lye.
She said the corn is processed using hardwood ashes that contain a lye-like substance to help remove the outer hull.
“You can grind it, and that’s what you make masa for like tortillas and things like that out of,” she said. “And when you do that, it actually makes it nutrient rich and available for you. But if you just eat corn that’s ground, you cannot get the nutrients out of it until it’s nixtamalized.”
Long ago, she said people would heat stones that had lime in them and add those to water, creating the right conditions to remove the corn’s outer hull. She said that process was carried north from Mexico to tribes in the Midwest through trade routes.
“This kind of corn soup idea is something that crosses all over the continent,” Gordon Altiman said. “It’s a huge thing, but every different tribe has their own form of it. And so this is the Potawatomi way of doing it.”
On the stove, she sautes onions for the soup. On a backburner, navy beans and smoked meat simmer in a broth that she cooked for hours the night before. If she’s cooking dry beans, she will also soak them overnight. The soup typically calls for white beans, but she uses navy beans because that’s how her husband’s mother Gloria would make it.
“So what I’ll do is saute the onions, put it in with the broth,” she explained. “Then, I’m going to add the corn at the very end because if we cook that too long, it starts to break apart. You really want it to be in these nice, fluffy, whole pieces of hominy.”
Usually, she and her husband make the soup in the fall, and she adds her own twist to the meal with homemade tortillas that are dipped in the dish. The smell of smoked meat wafts from the pot simmering on the stove.
“My kids last night when I started making the broth, They were like, ‘Are you making bacon? Is that bacon? What’s that delicious smell?’ she recalled, smiling.
They were eager for a taste, but she explained it wasn’t quite ready. These large soups have a similar pull for her husband just as they did for her father, who grew up on the Red Cliff reservation in northern Wisconsin.
“Naboob is what we call it in Ojibwe,” she said. “It’s something that you would use all winter long because a lot of our ingredients were dried like manoomin – wild rice – would have been dried. You could dry this hominy and carry it where it’s actually dehydrated.”
She adds dried ramps to the soup, which are dehydrated wild onions harvested from the forest. She also throws in a bit of black pepper. Once the hominy is added, she said it doesn’t take long before it’s ready to serve.
“That’s it. We’re ready to roll here,” she said, reaching for a bowl.
The dish reminds her of the summers she spent on her grandpa’s dairy farm in Fond du Lac. She and her brother would play in grain bins filled with field corn that would be used as feed for dairy cows.
“This idea of processing the corn in this way really makes me feel like there’s a better use for it than just for feed,” she said.
For years, her husband has been going to Walpole Island to haul bags of corn for processing.
“They have community harvesting events, so they’ll go out and basically the tribe will just cut all the corn down,” she said. “You go out, and you just haul away whatever corn your family needs for the year.”
She said she feels good that her kids get to grow up eating traditional dishes like this, whereas she and others had to seek them out because so few people were making them anymore. She tells them that if they want to live in a good way that they must learn the ways of their ancestors.
“These foods are their favorite things because these are their home-cooked meals, and that’s what I really like that they get to keep those food traditions alive,” Gordon Altiman said.
As they hear stories of where these dishes come from, she said they learn how they’re made from start to finish.