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A few more cookbooks from my bookshelves
Hopi Cookery, by Juanita Tiger Kavena. ‘A compendium of more than 100 authentic recipes of the peace-loving Hopis’ says the book cover. Recipes include Pinto Beans with Watermelon Seeds, Blue Corn Dumplings-and Piki-, the famous tissue-thin cornbread of the Hopiit.
Old New Orleans Cooking (I’m researching the identity of the author)- This modest 60 page volume from the first half of the 1900s contains ‘hundreds of secret recipes that helped this historic city to establish its fame. I received a photo-copy of the fragile volume in 16 double-sided pages. From Jambalaya and Crayfish Bisque, to 3 kinds of Pralines, you had better believe this is authentic, old-school N’awlins cooking.
Groundbreaking publications (19/20Centuries)
Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book (1846), Catharine E. Beecher. By an American writer, suffragist, anti-slavery activist, proponent of Kindergarten education and a member of one of the most prominent families of the era. An authoritative volume of early American cookery, with no index or illustrations.
Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook (Revised, Enlarged Edition), by the Food Editors of the Farm Journal, ed. Nell B. Nichols. When you think about old-fashion American country food, this is one of the sources you would be well-advised to seek. It can often be found in a good used-bookstore for a pittance, and it will turn out a rich selection of history and know-how.
The Jewish-American Kitchen, Raymond Sokolov. I have pored over this beautiful and interesting recipe book- and I have referred to it elsewhere on this blog- namely when I overcame my fear of making Chopped Liver. It is almost a coffee table book, with big, beautiful photos, clear writing, and amusing style.
the vegetarian epicure, by anna thomas. The title and author may appear in modest, lower-case letters, but this is a collection of 262 recipes that made itself known in CAPITAL LETTERS, since it appeared in the early 1970s. It’s smart, sophisticated, down-home and international all at the same time.
World Sourdoughs from Antiquity, by Ed Wood. This is a history of cuisine and an actual cookbook. Lots of amazing recipes, as well as a culinary reconstruction of both ancient and early modern bread making techniques.
The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook, Gloria Bley Miller. Craig Claiborne, a famed restaurant critic and gastronomic writer for the New York Times, said of this book, “A labor of Love…Should be treasured by anyone with a serious interest in the Chinese cuisine.” He’s right. True Bird’s Nest Soup? Ten Precious Rice? Braised Porkballs & Lilly Buds? It’s all here. I used to live in China for a half-year, and I did manage to learn some cooking techniques and recipes- but that was merely scratching the surface.
Wild Plant Family Cookbook, by Particia K. Armstrong. This book seems to be 1/2 reference, 1/2 actual cookbook; and it is a staggering achievement. It features and highlights wild foods from the Midwest of the United States- foods that have been consumed here by Native Peoples for thousands of years before colonization.
Biscuits & Slices; and a bonus volume: The Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits, from the Australian Women’s Weekly Home Library. These large sturdy paperback editions reflect an aspect of- and love for sweets that are unique to English sensibilities- these cookies and bars are appropriate for High Tea, after-school and midnight snacks. Some metric measurements (see below).
Kitchen Confidential, Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bourdain. This book became a literal and literary overnight sensation. And anyone who has watched Chef Bourdain’s TV series (No Reservations) will see that this nearly world-weary, brilliant funny foodie is a formidable figure in world food consciousness.
Metric Cooking for Beginners, Binevera Barta. Liters, mL, grams, kilograms and Celsius in your recipes bumming you out? I found this instruction guide-cum-recipe manual from the 1970s for a dollar at a used bookstore. I do have a combination kitchen weight scale that I use, and some of my measuring implements also show metric gradations. If you use international recipe sources at all, some are strictly metric. You can always get yourself a metric calculator too- that might actually be easier, but it can set you back US$40 (cf http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FONJN6?ie=UTF8&tag=sciencemadesimpl&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B000FONJN6 )
image courtesy of http://www.clipartof.com/details/clipart/229985.html
It’s summer, and with the approach of Green Corn festivals throughout Native America from the Eastern Seaboard and Maritimes-, to the South-west, where the Hopi people have already danced-in the first of the summer’s corn harvest (it’s a beautiful ceremony of three-days, and they make a delicious and parchment-thin corn-bread, rolled up in scrolls). In the Southeast (Mississippian people), where the Choctaw tribe maintained beautiful family gardens side by side, in such breadth, that when the Spanish arrived in those tribal domains some 400 years ago, the beautifully kept gardens extended in every direction, as far as the eye could see. These were brilliant people, with a tight relationship to Mother Earth. Now Natives everywhere are striving to revitalize and promote those sophisticated expressions of sustainable human culture and permaculture. There are exciting projects in Indigenous garden systems being re-born in the desertic southwest, by Tohono O’odam people and their neighbors to the north, all the way up to the Hopis and Paiutes, not too far from the borders of the Great Basin.
One of the first foods Europeans encountered is known to this day as Succotash, although, like it’s metaphorical European cousin, Goulash- most people have no idea what real succotash or real goulash really is. The word is common to Haudenosaunee (pronounced Haw-den-o-shawnee, better known as Iroquois, or The Confederacy of Six Nations) – and Algonquin based languages as well. Now we’re going to go from the Five Berry Sisters in the previous blog post about granola…to The Three Sisters. All these dynasties of great Indigenous vegetable or fruit crops seem to be matrilineal, or is that sororal?
The story of The Three Sisters is most often identified with the 6 Nations people, who have always grown Corn, Beans, and Squash together, in what is also known in western horticultural circles as Companion Planting. It just means that two (or more) types of plants grow better together when they are planted together intentionally, because they provide symbiotic advantages to each other. Ok that’s redundant. They’re symbiotic.
The corn stalks provide a natural pole for bean vines to climb (and that prevents them from sprawling all over the soil, where they can get plant rust- or must-, which can ruin a crop, or make them less productive or less beautiful. The squash vines on the other hand grow close to the ground and have fine large leaves that shade the soil, and conserve moisture and discourage competing weeds. The maturing squash fruits also get a good balance of sun and shade beneath the corn (generally planted with 2-4 corn seeds in a mound); and finally the beans help fix nitrogen in the soil through their root systems, which is a primary nutrient for the growing corn, which demands a lot of nitrogen from the earth. It’s an ingenious system, and it’s been used by the advanced agricultural cultures that helped build many of the Native populations across North America during the past few millennia.
Some of the cultures have always been built on primary foodstuffs such as Sunflower, or Wild Rice, or Maize, or Quinoa (referred to as the Mother Grain by the Inca), or Goosefoot Grass seed, or Acorn, or Pinenut. The ancient history of traditional food systems in this continent is amazing. Stunning, actually. But when you step back and see the impact of Indigenous foods of this hemisphere on the rest of the world during the past few hundred years, it becomes instantly recognizable that these food systems were remarkable and very intelligently designed and managed resources. Native American foods now make up 60% of the world’s food production and trade. These are the people who gave us corn from teosinte, and tomatoes, chilis, and several hundred varieties of pappas (potatoes). This is where the careful setting of seasonal grass fires increased the fertility of the soil, encouraged growth of desired crops, and made the process of subsistence-gathering more accessible and productive.
The three sisters first arrive at our cooking pot around mid-summer. The recipe I make is one variation of many approaches that are somewhat different from each other, but they are all very good too. This uses a summer squash, but as Autumn gets closer, the winter squash will also begin to appear. You can use green corn (most people now use sweet corn), although you could also use hominy in some form, and you wouldn’t stray very far from the basic preparation. Not only are these plants agriculturally harmonious, they are nutritionally complementary.
If I remember my math correctly, of the 8 essential amino acids that make a complete protein, Corn is deficient in lysine, but rich in tryptophan (like turkey, you know?); and beans are particularly rich in lysine, but not so much with tryptophan. (And the beans are are legumes, not beans as in haricot vert, or string beans, green beans or whatever you want to call them.) So you always put the two foods together and they make a whole protein that keeps you healthy and well nourished. The squash makes it succulent, whether it’s zucchini (summer) or pumpkin (winter). The Maya and Aztec solved the problem of access to some of the locked-up nutrients of the corn by cooking it with lime (not the citrus fruit, the mineral)- and that releases the vitamin B necessary to prevent pelegra.
Enough with the food history – let me know if you like succotash, make succotash, have a different recipe, have an authentic preparation, etc. When I write about food- even if this is an informal food blog- I sometimes forget to stop writing when I get on a roll…but you already figured that one out.
For this recipe, I found a can of Pigeon Peas (processed in Puerto Rico), and Patty Pan squash.
in a big skillet
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp bacon fat
Yes, use all that fat in whatever combination you like. If you’re kosher or halal the bacon fat can be omitted, or you could use a little hickory salt or a smoked paprika, or something like that. I like a little smokey flavor. This would have always been prepared over a cooking fire, for thousands of years. Just use about 1/4 to 1/3 cup fat. And it’s not true what they were saying for a while about lard or bacon fat- it’s actually much better for you than hydrogenated margarine or shortening ever was (although find the hormone free pork product if you can).
Into the fat, put a small sliced onion, sliced almost any way you like;
smash a clove of garlic & add that after a while, along with
-generous 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
-1/2 tsp salt (I have never in my life used quantities of salt in my cooking, most people use more than this)
-a pinch of nutmeg
-a spoonful of dried shrimp powder
-a ground up dried red pepper (such as a cayenne), depending on if you want this to be spicy warm or not
-some fresh herbs if you have them, thyme, sage, parsely, basil, wild garlic grass- you could even use some mint or coltsfoot (that would be a very traditional seasoning, although you have to dry the coltsfoot and burn it to an ash, to use it)
After everything has sweated together at medium heat for a while, add a can of legume beans (roughly a pint, if you cook your own from scratch, and it’s worth the time and effort); and maybe 2 cups of roughly sliced up summer or winter squash. Now add about 3 cups of corn kernels- freshly shelled is best. Just strip it off the cob with a knife or corn sheller, and be sure to squeeze out the milk and all the of corn by milking the empty cob with the flat of your knife. Today, I also took a big handful of dried wild mushrooms and soaked them in very hot water for 10 minutes, and chopped them roughly and added them to the mix. Be sure to add the soaking water from the mushrooms, but don’t let any of sand or grit at the bottom of the soaking water get into your recipe. I just let everything cook together for another 10-15 minutes over medium heat.
The mushrooms I used have morels, which are regarded as very dilectible by anyone who either grew up with them wild, or anyone who is a food snob. They are very good when you pick them in the woods, and they grow near rotten oak tree stumps/logs for some reason. Morel mushrooms are so good I want to marry them. They are one of the foods with the 6th quality of Umami (the other five are: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and hot)- Umami is the fun one. It’s the mind-filling and taste-bud satisfying quality that you find in oysters, lobsters, truffles, mushrooms, fois gras, soft-rinded cheeses, and other foods that are <Surprise!> also associated with aphrodisiacs. You don’t hear that on the Food Network just every day.
For the beans, you could use pintos, red beans, cranberry beans, black beans, kidney beans- they are the amino acid and carbohydrate powerhouses. Altogether, this is a wonder-food, and it tastes good too. The recipe I describe on this blog does use a lot of adapted and introduced ingredients, but the authentic preparation I can just imagine made a hundred generations of Native people everywhere very happy, healthy and strong for many many centuries.
There are about 100 people a week reading this blog now (I hope you like it!)- and if I make a mistake about my amino acids, or make some kind of wildly misplaced or mistaken statement about the Tibetan Goji Berry Harvest, you’ll let me know, right? lol