I Lyed!

Lyed corn that is!

This product is made by soaking corn in a weak lye bath that removes the outer hull from the kernel. It can be made from white or yellow corn, and is sold in whole or cracked kernel varieties. It originates from the aboriginal peoples of North and South America, who discovered this technique of drying corn so that it was more palatable, and could be stored for later use.

My adventure with lyed corn started forty years ago when my father, a member of the Cayuga Nation, took me for a visit to the reservation where I was fed a bowl of corn soup. I remember it tasting delicious. Chewy, and salty, and smoky, with big chunks of fry bread to soak up all the broth at the bottom of the bowl. That soup has haunted me for years.

Fast forward 40 years later. I was researching 18th and 19th century upper Canadian recipes for a course on hearth cooking that I am going to be co-teaching in October. What do I stumble across but an 18th century recipe for corn soup. As I read through the ingredients, my mind rushed back to the corn soup of my childhood.

Corn soup in the Haudenosaunee culture is based on some basic ingredients – lyed corn, beans, salt pork and water. The soup I made did not have beans, used chicken stock as a base, and had some cream and butter stirred in just before serving, but the star of the show was the lyed corn.

The following pictures show the lyed corn I used in its dry state and after cooking. ¼ cup of dry corn expands to just under 1 cup when cooked.

The dry corn is soaked in water overnight, and boiled for 3-4 hours until the corn kernels soften and burst open, sometimes referred to as popping. The result is a fairly bland tasting corn with a chewy texture that works beautifully in soups.


Close up of kernels that have popped.

I made the soup in a cast iron pot over an open hearth fire, which added an extra smokiness to the finished product which I would categorize as comfort food, plain and simple…no lie.


Note – The Haudenosaunee confederacy is made up of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations.