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The Native American students involved with the Dream of Wild Health Network recently held their last sale of the summer at Little Earth-  There was a wild summer storm that afternoon in Minneapolis, and we stood protected from the warm tempest… and admired the harvest.

Of course I made a few things right away – cold Borscht, coleslaw and icebox (cucumber) pickles.  When I was growing up in the prairie provinces in Canada, I had Russian and Ukrainian friends.  Borscht was and the famous pysanky, or Ukrainian Easter Eggs were very popular.

I gradually learned how to make borscht over a period of years, particularly after I spent some time in our hippie vegetarian collective with one of our head cooks, who was Ukrainian American.  She could make borscht; and she has a fund of family heirloom recipes with poppyseed.   Actually everything she cooked was quite amazing.  I keep my borscht simple – veggies sauteed lightly, seasoned with salt, pepper, bay leaf, caraway seed and a little dried dill- and lots of good fresh cabbage and shredded beets.  Caraway is very good for digestion and it tastes good.   I simmered everything in chicken stock and let it cool before taking an immersion blender to the whole soup pot (always remember to take the bay leaves out).  Chilled, in the summer, with a little yogurt or sour cream.  Some people have been known to put a suggestion of orange zest in borscht- and it’s tasty.

Cole slaw originates in Dutch language- the word for salad I believe.  I like my cole slaw simple, but I also added pineapple from a little can, as a tribute to country-church basement dinners.

The other two dishes that came out of this trip to the Native garden stand were cucumber ice-box pickles, and some skillet cooked summer squash.  The cuke pickles have maybe 6 ingredients in total: cukes, shavings of red onion, a bruised clove of garlic, vinegar, salt and a bit of sugar.  Mix a light pickle and keep the thinly sliced cukes in your fridge.  It’s very refreshing in the heat of summer.

This is a whole bunch of fresh veg from the Minneapolis Farmers Market this morning- my good friend Catherine and I got there just after 7A (because I was LATE), and that’s just enough time before the pavilions get stuffed with people. We both saw people we knew and you could actually stand and talk for a minute.

A few of my friends said make a food blog, so I am making a food blog because I like writing about food, cooking food, feeding people, being fed by people, reading world food history. I used to be part of an organic, vegetarian, collectively owned restaurant (years ago), and I worked with my sister (a very good cook) and mom (a very good cook) and we put together- well, we’re still putting together- the beginnings of a family cookbook, with table of contents, pictures of family, scans of original handwritten recipes in pencil or ink- on very delicate yellowing paper. Recipes that start out at the top: “Chopped Pickle (Good)” , or “Pound Cake (Mrs. Hal Dixon”).  Those kind of recipes- and you can see the similarities in the handwriting of four generations of women. Which is kind of amazing all by itself.

Grandma Dickey’s Green Tomato Mincemeat, Buttermilk Pie, Mom Giesler’s Sauerkraut and Dumplings, Dark Fruit Cake, Pecan Nut Cups (‘mix dough by hand while watching TV’, so I do). Vi Peterson’s Peach Pie, Applesauce Cookies, Moravian Love Feast Buns, Moravian Sugar Cake, Beef Stew, Pork Fried Rice. I added one more Moravian recipe to the family’s recipe file, and we started making Moravian Christmas Cakes at least 30 years ago, and you will find only a handful of people anywhere who would make them by hand. (Why? because a batch of the dough, about the size of a small cabbage can make 100 dozen cookies. I’ve kept track several years in a row, so I know my estimate is fairly accurate.) Those cookies are something unique- spicy crisp, thin as a leaf, melts on the tongue and it always surprises people who have never seen them, heard of them nor tasted them before.

We lived in farm country for many years, in the US and in Canada- that’s where you will find some people who know how to cook. We got to pick wild food (milk weed pods, cat-tail shoots, crayfish, wild strawberries -tiny and potent- various kind of field greens. We did subsistence gathering (I’m sure my sister and brother probably didn’t appreciate those expeditions at all- I don’t know, though). I think we all liked picking strawberries, even though it was extremely labor intensive for a 7 y.o, an 11 y.o. and a 16 y.o.- quiet and delicious work, except for when the trains blew through the middle of of the village a few times a day. We also used to pick huge quantities of Saskatoon berries during the years we lived in Alberta- kind of like a blueberry, but a distinct fruit all by itself.

In my 20s a good friend (in Northfield Minnesota), Gary, was an early proponent and activist for community gardens. And we grew up with gardens, and all our friends out in the rural areas… you better believe they had gardens. And orchards, and maple sugaring. Not for sale- it was just the stuff their families grew or made and used (or gave away) for the whole year.  About 15 years ago, I designed an Indigenous heritage foods conservation program, which is still operating here in the Twin Cities, and it’s young Native people who are working with Elders on growing the gardens.  Their website can be accessed through:  http://dreamofwildhealth.org/     Heritage seeds stocks insure bio-diversity, revitalize cultures and conserve the intangible assets of Native people.

When I grew up  in Alaska I also ate Bush food. I’m Yupik, Eskimo (yes you can say Eskimo, because we’re not Inuit speakers). And I have two families of amazing people, one biological, one adoptive, one brown, one white.  I spoke Yupik until I was about age 4, they tell me – I mean, I grew up bi-lingual.  That’s probably more accurate. The village where I was born is called Mamerterilluq, which means ‘The place where food is cached’ or sometimes, ‘Smokehouse’. I know I ate lots of salmon and moose (note: not salmon mousse), fresh tundra berries folded into akutaq, often referred to as Eskimo Ice Cream, about which more later. I’ve also had walrus and seal since spending time back in Alaska. Frozen dried whitefish with seal oil- it’s very good with Pilot Bread (a kind of dry, big cracker) and Tundra Tea- the better known name is Labrador Tea. Here in Minnesota the Ojibwe people call it Swamp Tea, and it’s just as good as at home, although the leaves seem to be smaller than Alaska’s.

It may take me a while to get the hang of this site, but I think a blog is a good way of sharing with other people who are interested in food. Now I just have to figure out how to get the pictures to stick where they’re supposed to stick.  In the meantime, they’re parked in big stacks here on the front page until I give them their own entries.  I hope you like the blog.

all images and content (c) 2012 Richard LaFortune