Williamson County Public Library Blog

Native American Cuisine

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By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Fall comes around each year, and the air becomes chilled and the leaves change colors, and it’s time to remember November as Native American Heritage Month.  We remember how Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe, assisted the settlers of Plymouth and how Pocahontas and her father, from the Algonquin tribe, assisted in helping the settlers in Jamestown.  Both were kindnesses of friendship and food that unfortunately later came back to bite them.

Since the history of Native Americans is so broad and diverse, during this month of holiday feasting and heritage, we’ve decided to focus on a brief survey of Native American food and cuisine.  Today, few of the Native American tribes eat the same diets that their ancestors ate, but much of the indigenous foods are now incorporated into the cuisines of almost the entire world.

Starting in the northeast, where contact first began with the English, we’ll work our way across the nation. While there were some common staples and practices, such as corn being a very important dietary staple across most of the nation, the first thing we should realize is that all tribes did not eat the same things or cook the same way.  (Keep in mind though that I am a Caucasian woman, and may get some things wrong.)

The Northeastern tribes staple foods were corn, beans and squash.  These foods were often called the “three sisters” because they were planted together: the beans grew up the tall stalks of the maize, while the squash spread out at the base of the corn and beans which provided protection and support for the roots. They also enjoyed the bounty of wildlife, including deer and turkey, along with other birds.

The Southern tribes were serious farmers, using irrigation and crop rotations.  They ate corn, cornmeal and also hominy— interestingly, you can make hominy by adding ashes to the corn, which helps the corn cook faster, and brings out more nutrients.  And of course, with hominy you can make grits. Other foods that we are still eating today were introduced to us by the tribes in the Southeast:  potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash and beans.  Their dies was also supplements by wild berries and grapes as well as peppers and sassafras; making teas and ginger like drinks. They were also manily small game hunters (rabbits and turkeys).

On the Great Plains midwestern Native American tribes were mainly hunters and gatherers. These tribes were big game hunters for bison and caribou, and many tribes would work together to capture these large animals. There was limited farming, and many tribes could only grow a couple of crops so they relied on a trade system.

In the Southwest deserts, animals were more scarce.  For meat, they often ate wild turkey, but they mainly relied on their farming.  Of course, one of the most important foods they grew was maize (corn), they even had 24 different types. They also grew beans, squash, melons, pumpkins and fruit.

On the Pacific Coast, Native Americans used salmon and other fish, seafood, mushrooms, berries, and meats such as deer, duck, and rabbit. These tribes were mostly hunter-gatherers. Since the weather as mostly good all year round, they could rely year-round on the abundant foods in the region. In some areas, acorns were ground into flour. These groups, along with almost all tribes, prepared dried or salted meat to last through the winter season.

Most of the foods we eat during the holidays came from Native Americans.  In 1621, the first Thanksgiving recorded that the feast included deer, water fowl, turkeys, shellfish, eels, squash, corn, and beans, and according to one legend, a native American named Quadequina brought a bowl of popcorn.  The traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas foods, including turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, baked beans, and mashed potatoes were adopted by us white people.

Grits, cornmeal mush, cornbread, succotash, and fried green tomatoes are all uniquely southern foods that we learned about from Native Americans.  Some people in the South still hunt raccoons, opossums, and squirrels, as did the Native Americans; venison is still eaten throughout North America. And what would life be like maple syrup. Southwestern and Mexican foods were also heavily influenced by Native Americans. The food sharing was so important that there is a term, the Columbian Exchange, which explains the sharing of Native American foods with the while settlers, as well as around the world.  They, on the other hand, got many of our diseases as well as some of our foods and weapons.

Over 4 million people have tried Native American food for the first time.  It’s entertaining and you can also see what a few dishes look like.  The consensus is that the food is good, and people want more.

And now for some recipes, because we can’t talk about native American foods without showing some basic recipes…


Native American Fry Bread

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Mix ingredients together with a fork in a medium bowl. (will be sticky).
  2. Liberally grease your hands with vegetable oil and shape dough into a ball. Leave dough in bowl and cover with a towel and set in warm place for at least 20 minutes, but leaving longer makes the bread fluffier.
  3. When you are ready to make the bread, heat vegetable oil, at least 1 inch deep or deeper in a frying pan or electric skillet. (around 375 degrees) Test a small ball of dough in grease, it should float in grease, not sit on the bottom, if it doesn’t immediately float, oil is not hot enough.
  4. When oil is ready, grab a ball of dough a little bigger than a golf ball and stretch out in your greased hands until dough is flattened out about the size of a large cookie. Poke a small hole in the center of the dough with your fingers, and carefully lay in the hot oil.
  5. Let dough brown to a golden brown before turning over and frying other side.
  6. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Seven Sisters Native American Recipe

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Put the rice on to cook.
  2. Once everything has been chopped up that needs chopping, sauté the fresh vegetables till just starting to lightly brown. Remember to be careful with when you add your garlic. Over cooking garlic causes a bitter taste!
  3. Add the tomatoes, beans, Ortega Chiles and corn, stir everything together gently.
  4. Add your spices and herbs, mix them in and cover on a low to medium heat for about five minutes.
  5. Add your meat if you plan to use meat this time now (*cooked). Continue cooking for another five minutes or until hot all the way though.
  6. Serve over cooked rice.

Kahkewistahaw Indian Taco’s

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Make your fry bread.
  2. Cook the hamburger meat and add the onions when it’s nearly done.
  3. While it’s cooking, dice up your lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and shred your cheese.
  4. When your hamburger is done, add your hamburger first, on top of the bread, then your lettuce, tomatoes and finally your cheese.
  5. Taco sauce is optional.
  6. Eat and enjoy.

Chitimacha Corn Soup

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Melt Margarine in pot and then sauté the onions for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the scraped corn in the pot and cook on a low fire for about 15 minutes.
  3. Next add water to the corn and let it come to a boil, then add the diced tomatoes to the soup.
  4. Also, after you have boiled the salt meat, you may also add it to the soup.
  5. Add salt and pepper to your desire. You can leave out the diced tomatoes, if you so desire.

Frijoles Rancheros

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Clean and rinse the beans
  2. In a large pot, add a gallon of water, beans, pork neck bones, garlic and tsp of salt.
  3. Add to pot bacon stripes. COVER LID and Boil on HIGH for 30 minutes.
  4. Add in the rest of the ingredients.
  5. Lower heat to MED/HIGH for approx. 90 minutes. Simmer for another hour.
  6. Important to keep an eye on water level. Make sure there is plenty of water covering the Beans. And always stir every other 30 minutes.

Smoked Chicken

Ingredients

Directions

This is one for you outdoor cooks, so start up your grills. Meanwhile, inside on the oven:

  1. Place the margarine in a small pan, pour in enough apple cider vinegar to cover, heat over medium heat, just enough to blend the margarine and vinegar.
  2. Add black pepper, and keep adding black pepper until your mixture turns black. This takes a lot of black pepper!
  3. When your grill is medium hot, place the chicken halves over the coals, and cook for about fifteen to twenty minutes.
  4. Turn chicken over and use a small brush to baste the chicken with the vinegar mixture.
  5. Baste often and generously, and continue to baste and turn chicken over, until chicken is done. (Chicken is done when juices run clear and the bone joints become loose.)

Note: The chicken will get very dark and crispy skinned during the process—this is normal.

Enjoy!


Sources:

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