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Kaylena Bray shared this recipe, which was passed down to her by her parents, David and Wendy Bray. They're both Seneca White Corn educators in New York State who share their knowledge at hands-on workshops hosted by universities, Native community centers and farms across the country. These no-bake energy balls get lots of staying power from a mix of oats and corn flour, peanut butter, coconut, dried fruit and mixed nuts. They're easily customizable by changing up the dried fruit and nuts. This recipe is part of our spotlight, There's a Movement to Revitalize Indigenous Cuisines and Knowledge—Here's Why That Matters.

EatingWell.com, November 2022

Gallery

Credit: Nate Lemuel

Recipe Summary

active:
15 mins
total:
15 mins
Servings:
36
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Toasted Seneca White Corn Has Fueled Native Americans for Centuries. These No-Bake Energy Balls Are a Modern Way to Harness Its Vitality.

No other plant is as geographically ubiquitous as corn. Its origin story begins nearly 9,000 years ago in Southern Mexico in a time when wild grass called teosinte studded the hillsides and river valleys. During this time, humans began selecting and planting the small kernels found tucked into the tiny sheaths of teosinte. Over millennia, they produced stronger varieties of seeds in a process that would begin the long and shared relationship between people and corn. 

From this humble beginning, corn now spans nearly 5,000 miles, from the high altitudes of the Andes to the thunderous eastern woodlands of North America where my ancestors began cultivating corn. To trace the spread of corn is to unravel a 9,000-year relationship of resilience and interdependence between people and their sacred seeds. Over time, this relationship has become a form of sovereignty that has persisted despite relocation and attempts of eradication faced by Indigenous people and their seeds. 

Today, when I look at the Seneca white corn seeds that my family continues to grow and cook, I see the legacy of our ancestors and their journey to bring the songs, knowledge and language of corn to our people. White corn has long existed as an integral part of the Seneca way of life as both a source of sustenance in times of war and peace and as part of our cultural center of existence. It is embedded in our ceremonies and forms a part of our worldview that emphasizes the symbiotic relationship required for us to be in relationship with corn as a living being that needs nurturing and as a gift for which we are continually grateful. 

a portrait of Kaylena Bray
Credit: Nate Lemuel

The domestication of corn throughout North America brought a steady source of food and nutrients for many people. Before horses were introduced to North America, canoes and running were the main forms of transportation. Running and canoeing were essential for survival, not only for the Haudenosaunee (a confederacy of Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Seneca and Tuscaroras bound together in peace) but for all communities that relied upon the important messages brought by foot. Runners and canoers needed sustainable energy sources, and one of the most important ingredients they carried with them for nutrition was roasted or parched white cornmeal. This variety of long, white-colored corn was grown by each Nation in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. (The Seneca Nation is located at the westernmost part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and thus called the Keepers of the Western Door.) Runners would journey between communities for days on end, along the way scooping a small handful of coarse-ground white cornmeal into the backs of their jaws. This small scoop would help sustain their energy as they traversed miles of wooded terrain. 

White corn energy sits in contrast to modern-day energy bars, which are primarily wheat-, rice- or sugar-based and derived from crops introduced to the Americas approximately 300 years ago. The introduction of these foreign ingredients into Native American diets throughout the history of government food-assistance programs, along with forced relocation and removal from homelands, served to disrupt traditional food production and eating practices, eventually leading to the genesis of unhealthy foods and eating patterns within Indigenous communities. Wheat, sugar and rice have not served our people well, and in thinking about an energy source more relevant to our Indigenous culture, my parents began to imagine an alternative energy bite that harkened back to the white corn energy that our ancestors had relied upon. 

Corn was a central part of our diets for thousands of years. Our bodies have adapted to utilize corn and crave its nutrients and taste. This was the thought process behind the search to find sustained energy in foods that would be especially beneficial for athletes. As a competitive athlete in running and lacrosse, my dad, Dave Bray, knew he felt a more sustained energy after eating Seneca white corn products. Seneca white corn no-bake energy balls were developed based on this understanding. These corn-based bites utilize the energy source that enabled runners to journey long distances, along with the quick energy derived from maple syrup, topped off with protein from peanut butter for sustained stamina.  

I remember the first time I tried the bites. They were fresh out of the bowl from a test batch my parents were working on with the help of Buffalo State College nutrition students. My brain registered the familiar nuttiness of roasted white cornmeal, and with it came the memories of the Haudenosaunee ceremonial longhouse and the cultural teachings of our corn, beans and squash—our life sustainers. The blending of ancient and new flavors brought about an important recognition for me about the way Indigenous people and my ancestors have continued to innovate around food so that it stays alive in our hearts, bodies and minds. Every bite that I now take of the Seneca white corn no-bake energy bites has begun forming its own set of memories that, in time, will continue to be passed on to others. 

Traditional foods like Seneca white corn are revitalizing efforts of farmers, practitioners and activists for the health of their communities. As this network continues to grow, so do the many hands that now take care of Seneca white corn. In Marin Country in Northern California, The Cultural Conservancy has become a steward of Seneca white corn, in an exchange that marks its movement from east to west on a journey of continued growth and resilience. The journey of Seneca white corn continues with the sharing of seeds with our relatives in the West to continue growing our relationship with corn for the next seven generations.

Ingredients

Ingredient Checklist

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

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  • Combine oats, corn flour, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in peanut butter, applesauce, maple syrup, 2 tablespoons water, honey and vanilla. Gently stir in coconut flakes, dried fruit and nuts. 

  • With clean hands, roll the mixture into 1-inch balls, using about 1 heaping tablespoon to make each. (If the mixture is too dry to roll, stir in 1 tablespoon water.) Roll in more coconut, if desired.

Tip

You can buy roasted white corn flour from Gakwi:yo:h Farms online at shop.senecamuseum.org.

Nutrition Facts

1 energy ball
77 calories; protein 2g; carbohydrates 9g; dietary fiber 1g; sugars 3g; added sugar 2g; fat 4g; saturated fat 1g; mono fat 2g; poly fat 1g; vitamin a iu 1IU; folate 12mg; sodium 77mg; calcium 10mg; iron 1mg; magnesium 8mg; phosphorus 17mg; potassium 32mg; niacin equivalents 4mg; selenium 1mcg.
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