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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

 

What a movie!  It’s a little strange writing about a movie about a food blog (among other things) in this food blog.   “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.” (Wilde).   But IF you get a chance, go see this flick- four of us went together to look at it on Friday.  Meryl Streep nails the character of Julia Child (and the woman who incidentally portrayed her sister, well, they were phenomenal together)- the whole audience went ape over this movie.   Everyone in that packed cinema was happily yelling and cheering for almost 2 hours.  I’d see it again.  Stanley Tucci was good too.

I just re-deranged –as my friend Hortensia likes to say- -my kitchen cupboards.  Not the whole kitchen- I don’t want to get too carried away.  But I realized things were slowly careening toward a state of entropy for a couple of months and  becoming unmanageable.  And it was time to make granola, so it I had to find out how and where everything had migrated inside my cupboards while I wasn’t paying attention.

I discovered a jar of Organic Black Tahini and a packet of Junket (it’s a Scandinavian rennet product that you can use to make something like Panna Cotta, or a Trembleque (different, and made with cocunut milk I think).  Also I found my Mexican dried, powdered shrimp in one of 4 or 5 unmarked recycled, plastic yogurt containers.  Sometimes it’s like Christmas when I open one of these containers and it has Chinese Mu Er (Tree Ear), or semolina flour, or dried shrimp.

So today I make granola because I’m running out.  I usually make a huge batch about once a month, and I have done that fairly consistently for about 20 years.  I used to make a version from ‘Bridgehampton Works and Days‘ while I was still in my teens.  Then after I entered the restaurant business several years later, where we made fresh granola once or twice a week.  The New Riverside Cafe granola had a cult-following; our business logo was a cartoon of a plump flying purple eggplant with little white angel wings, and our official business motto was ‘NO MEAT!  NO BOSSES!’  I always did say that it was a slightly anarchical artists colony disguised as a vegetarian restaurant.

Actually I think the unofficial name of the business was ‘The New Riverside Cafe:  Biomagnetic Center of the Universe’.  Whenever we had anti-war demonstrations in town (which was FREQUENT in the late 1980s- Think:  Reagan/Iran-Contra) our little cafe storefront became standing room only, as energetic peaceniks flooded our shop for organic coffee and restorative rice and beans, or tofu, veg and brown rice.  It was the most financially successful, collectively owned business in the United States at that time (we cleared something like a $1M a year, if you can believe it).  Our neighboring counter-culture vegetarian sister-restuarant (The Seward Cafe) made t-shirts with the neo-post-constructionist image of a piece of an herioc spear of broccoli with the legend “EAT BROCCOLI!” -after George Bush the elder announced that he was now an adult and the President, so he didn’t have to eat broccoli if he didn’t want to.  So eating broccoli became a fashion statement of war resistance for a little while in certain enclaves.

When I started regularly making granola at home I combined these two recipes to my own use.  You to never make it the same way twice if you don’t want to.  I have converted this to standard recipe measurements (rather than handfuls) – but this is more or less how I make it.  This will make enough to feed you and your crew, and you will still have enough to give a couple of containers away- people love homemade granola.  It’s also gluten free (although some strict gluten free diets prohibit even oatmeal – in which case use rolled Rye Flakes)

equipment:

  • big mixing bowl
  • a couple of good sized measuring cups – one for wet, one for dry ingredients
  • baking sheet(s)- I always use a jelly roll pan- it has deep sides that contain everything
  • measuring spoons, rubber spatula, big metal spatula

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

dry ingredients:

  • 5-6 cups rolled oats (I don’t usually use Quick-type oats, but they will work)
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup shredded dry coconut (or big flaked coconut- makes an interesting texture)
  • 1/2 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 2 Tbsp of any whole grain flour(s) – I usually use 2 handfuls of buckwheat flour (it’s rich in rutin, which resembles a water soluble B vitamin- and its deep taproot gets lots of iron up from the soil subsurface); but sometimes I use wild rice flour (hard to find, unless you’re in Minnesota, probably- sorry); or rye-, or corn flour.  You could use wheat germ- that would be good – whole bran would be fine as well.
  • 1/2 cup of cornmeal
  • a teaspoon of cinnamon

Start with about 5-6 cups of oats, add coconut, cornmeal, buckwheat flour, pumpkin seeds and cinnamon.  You can mingle these dry ingredients together a little, but don’t worry about it too much.

wet ingredients:

in a measuring cup mix:

  • 1/2 to 3/4  cup vegetable oil (you could probably use half that amount if you have diet that requires low-fat)
  • a teaspoon of vanilla extract-

mix together and pour over the dry ingredients and toss together till everything is evenly coated.  If you use the measuring cup that had the oil in it, the wet ingredients won’t stick to the measuring cup:

  • scant 1/4 cup honey
  • scant 1/4 cup dark or blackstrap molasses (the latter is packed with iron, but not very sweet)
  • scant 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • scant 1/4 cup brown sugar

Agave (cactus) syrup is good also; you can also use birch-tree syrup (widely available in Alaska); sorghum syrup (the grain sorghum was introduced to North America by Africans in the slave trade); probably pomegranate molasses would work, as would date syrup (popular in Iraq, on bread with cream for breakfast).  You can actually use whatever combination of sweeteners in any proportion you want.  As long as you use between 1/2 cup and a cup of any combination of sweetener, the recipe is fairly fool-proof.

Start mixing the wet and dry ingredients.  It will be severely messy- use a spoon, use your hands, use a spatula- Whatever it takes, just get everything mixed together into a big sticky mass and turn out onto a greased baking sheet.  If you have a 13″ x 18″ jelly roll pan, the raw granola will be close to an inch deep.

I usually bake it at about 325-350F for upwards of 30-45 minutes, until it dries out a little and becomes fragrant.  If I have more time on my hands I might bake it for close to an hour at 300F.  Turn it carefully and thoroughly a few times and it will bake to a golden or dark brown (depending on how much honey or molasses you use).  About halfway through the baking I add  about 1 cup or more of pecans, walnuts or other nuts, very roughly chopped.  I’ve used hickory nuts, and those are very good, but hard to find.  And be careful with anything you bake with honey as an ingredient, it browns beautifully, but also can burn easily.

Take the granola off the baking sheet – I usually put it on a couple of big plates or platters to cool.  While it is cooling I sprinkle on about 2 Tbsp Gomasio (a Japanese condiment made with sea salt and roasted sesame seeds ground together (we used to make that every week at the restaurant too).  Then I add 2 big handfuls of roasted, salted sunflower seeds.  These 2 ingredients are the only salt I have ever used in the recipe, but I never skip them, because they are rich in flavor and very rich in nutrients- did you know Sesame Seeds are one of the few sources of Vitamin T? Portable, durable energy-imbuing food is the whole purpose of granola.  I’ve seen an interesting electric machine in Germany that is used to crush and soak whole-grains for Muesli, which is very popular in Europe, and from the same branch of the food-family tree as Granola.

The final ingredient is dried fruit- I use anything I have in my cupboard- dried apples, berries, pineapple, mango, apricots, bananas, peaches, cherries, raisins, golden raisins, currants (those are still truly raisins in this country, just not fully mature).  For today, I’m going to use 5 kinds of berries, because in our Oral History, Yupik people have a story that’s usually called The Five Berry Sisters, and it reminds us that the berries- where we have lived for the past 10,000 years or so- used to be human beings, just like us.  So sometimes you would see eskimo people talking to the berries as we picked them, since the berries are able to understand human speech, and we still have a relationship with them.  The berry sisters officially are: blueberry, strawberry, cranberry, salmon-berry and thimble-berry.  I have to substitute the latter two indigenous berries with dried raspberries and cherries today.

Use about 1-2 cups of diced dried fruit in any combination.  Mix the whole thing well, and when you’re sure it’s utterly cool place it in your storage containers, eat it, give it away.