You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Indigenous’ tag.

work table

work table

Here’s to the herbs, spices and flavorings that have become familiar to me over the years and which I love to use.  It’s easy in a city like Minneapolis to trek around and explore the street-party of international and specialty markets, which increases your odds of laying hands on some of these ingredients, some of which are not only exotic, but challenging to find (Minneapolis even has a stretch of Nicollet Ave, called Eat Street).

This is what God made the internet for.  Most of the below items that I found over the past 20 year period  are now often locally available.  I like shopping for them in person, because you don’t have to pay increasing mail/shipping costs, or tap your foot as you wait for delivery trucks.  Anyhow, combing your territory for these little treasure is always a much better adventure provided that you have the gift of time.

I’ll highlight more specialty ingredients sometime in the future (Africa, SE Asia, Central America), and if you think today’s list is exotic, just wait!

Asfoetida – a gum (tree) resin used in cuisines from India.  It is a penetrating flavor and aroma – only use  a small pinch and fling it into hot oil when frying pappadums.  It actually has an startlingly unpleasant scent before you cook with it, but it is also a key ingredient in authentic Indian-style cooking with an exciting taste.  For centuries, the non-physical and magical attributes of Asafetida have been- at the least -equal to to its health and aesthetic qualities.

Curry Leaf – another India item – I’ve used this herb both fresh and dried – just like the name says, it tastes like delicate curry spices.  Look for it in either form at your local Indian grocery, which is likely one of the only places you’ll find it.

Epazote is an Indigenous herb with a pronounced flavor, with many uses in Central American tribal cuisines, as well as Southwest US tribes.  It’s easy to grow (I’ve planted it in my garden many times) and I put it in various sauces and salsas, and it is a great addition to dry beans when you cook them, thought to have carminative properties.   Having the virtue of being an antidote or preventive to flatulence.  Easy to grow in your garden, which is good – I prefer using fresh over dried leaves when I have the choice.  It has an indefinable, almost chocolatley presence on the palate and in the nose.

Galanga Root – I have this fascinating spice in my kitchen in its fresh and dried state (both sliced root and in powdered form) as well.  It can be found in Asian markets in its fresh form, often labeled as Thai Ginger.  The taste is difficult to describe, but it really doesn’t taste like ginger at all.   Use it when you make Tom Ka, Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk and Galangal.  Also known as Geing bot, and a couple of other perplexing names and spellings, it features regularly in Indonesian cuisine as well.

Grains of Paradise– A year or so ago I started searching for this peppery spice, and it took weeks to locate.  It is related to the African Alligator Pepper.  It has a spiky, pleasant flavor – unmistakably hotter than black pepper- and in the United States it found its way  into the brewing industry, for craft beer.  I later found out that this was one of the reasons it was scarce, as I began looking for it.  It has heat, powerful floral citrus and warm spice notes.

Gumbo File – This is not an exotic spice, since it is a unique Indigenous North American ingredient derived from finely ground leaf of sassafras.  This prominent ingredient in authentic Cajun and Creole cuisines around Louisiana has always been used by the Choctaw tribe (Five Nations) because of its thickening and flavoring virtues in cooking.  You can probably find it in the spice and baking aisle of your local supermarket.  It’s used as the name suggests in some preparations of Gumbo and is also sprinkled over a bowl of the stew at table to further enhance the flavor.

Juniper Berry – I love using this spice.  It does come fromf juniper and is generally fairly easy to obtain, because in addition to use in Native American cooking, it has been employed for centuries in traditional European kitchens as well, often to balance the strong tastes in game.  I always always always have this in my spice cabinet.  In cuisine francaise, it is a familiar companion to a strong burgundy:  A noble Rhône (Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge, a good 1981 if you can manage it).

Keffir Lime Leaves– Prominent in SE Asian cookery, Keffir leaves are becoming steadily more familiar in the US.  I have found the dried leaf in my local co-op/natural food store.  You can probably also find it- fresh or frozen- in larger Asian groceries and supermarkets.  It adds a bright citrus fragrance to curries and stir fries and has numerous applications.

Yuzu Juice– Never heard of this before?  Neither had I.  And this amazing flavoring agent was a beast to find.  I couldn’t even find it in the Japanese section of one of our major Asian super-marts.  It is the juice of an inedible Japanese citrus fruit, used only in the juice or grated rind incarnations.  Yuzu is one of the components for traditional sushi dipping sauce (Ponzu), mingled with soy sauce.  Bartenders also have come to rely on the addition of yuzu to high-end cocktails to add an intriguing and deliciously aha-moment to beverages at the bar.  The taste is often described as the love child of lemon and tangerine.

Res El-Hanout – Apparently like many curries, each family & household commands its own concoction for Res El-Hanout (الحانوت رأس), sometimes with up to a dozen or so individual spices.   It is used in the Moroccan kitchen and throughout North Africa in one form or another.  I love cooking chicken with this spice blend and it will transform any ingredient into a unique dish to place on your dinner table.  This was another spice that took some searching on my part, until I rejoiced when I stumbled upon it in a Middle Eastern grocery four blocks away from me.  I was whooping madly inside my head.

Szechuan Peppercorn – I was first introduced to this deliciously prickly spice when I was living in Taiwan.  My landlord at that time taught me how to make Ma Po Dofu (an iconic Szechuan tofu and pork main dish); and when I first tried to make this recipe back in Minnesota, I had to find this ingredient.  I don’t believe you can make Ma Po Dofu without it, it’s that essential.  Part of the reason is flavor, and another is texture.  This small peppercorn, which is small and reddish brown, has a woodsy, flowery personality, and a sensation on the tongue that is somewhere between heat and a tannic-bite.  The crunchy kernel also retains its almost dinty character, even after you grind it and cook it!  It is fairly easy to find in your Asian grocery.

Smoked Salt – Fortunately this aromatic item has moved out of boutique kitchen stores and is becoming easier to buy.  It is usually made from sea salt (as opposed to mined) salt, and there are a number of interesting incarnations and applications.  I first was introduced to Hickory Salt about 20 years ago, and more recently there are new smoked salts in a number of forms.  This is a wonderful ingredient, and I love using it in the absence of smoked meats when preparing rice and beans, for example, or other recipes that feature smoked cured meats.  It’s especially great to use when making vegetarian foods, adding a pleasant smokiness, but omitting the smoked ham, bacon or turkey leg.  Include it in a rub for fowl, meat or fish, and vegetables, to give it a grilled depth.  Team it up with smoked paprika (available in both sweet and hot powders) to develop complex flavors.

Sumac – another ingredient native to both North America and Africa, and historically used by peoples in both continents for many centuries.  It’s used everywhere from the Bosporus and Mediterranean cuisines, to tribes around North America.  It’s versatility can be grasped when you realize that it can be made into a refreshing cold beverage (like lemonade) or in soups, baked and grilled dishes, adding a puckery, fruity tone.  In North America there are varieties of sumac that are inedible, and in fact poisonous.  If you forage this wild food, you must know the difference.  I bought mine at the Middle Eastern market.

Advertisements

cookbooks!

Native:

Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Euell Gibbons.  This is not strictly a cookbook, nor is it by a writer who identifies as Indigenous.  Rather, it is a famous underground piece of writing by a wild-foods forager here in North America (he famously did a Grape-Nuts cereal TV ad in the 1970s, asking, ‘Did you know many parts of a pine tree are edible?’ ) It’s a great travelogue through Indigenous subsistence fare by a man who loves wild food and explains it well.

Colonial

Cooking in Old Salem, by Winston B. Spurgeon- a beautiful gift-shop paperback from the 1980s- fireplace cooking, Moravian baked-goods, lots of good history & period-food.

Groundbreaking publications (19/20Centuries)

Real French Cooking, with Outstanding Recipes From Other Countries.  The mid-century classic by the Brilliant Savarin, AKA Brillat-Savarin.  Belongs in your French section, along with Julia, and Simca Beck.

Classic American

Big Valley Amish Cook-Book, a Cookbook from Kishacoquillas Valley.  A thousand recipes from the Heartland and the 1970s.  You will find everything from 10 versions of Shoo-Fly Pie, to 2 versions of Happiness Cake (look that one up on the web).  Also a section on one-dish meals, various jell0-salads; and real heritage recipes, including hickory nut icing.  This is what one well-fed population of Pennsylvania Amish farm families ate for some generations, and they evidently ate well.

Comprehensive  Cuisine

The Africa Cookbook, Tastes of a Continent, by Jessica B. Harris could also appear under the World Food category here.  But this book is breathtaking in its scope- it really spans an entire continent, and it is a wonderful starting point for a newcomer to African cuisines.

Vegetarian

Can’t ignore New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant, by the Moosewood Collective.  It’s an oldie but a goodie- and it’s not strictly ovo-lacto.  They do include an array of fish/seafood recipes- so it’s definitely not a vegan affair.

Baking

The Italian Baker, by Carol Field.  From yeast to quick breads, from savory to sweet, this is one of those big juicy cookbooks that is just fun to read, even if you don’t actually try any of the recipes.  There are line-drawings inside (a la James Beard), the lay-out is lovely and the perspective is very complete.

World Food

A brand new find from an estate sale:  The East European Cookbook, by Kay Shaw Nelson.  This book is authentic, authoritative & appeared almost 40 years ago.  No photos in this book either- only text- but you almost want to eat the book itself, the recipes are so gorgeous to read.  I can’t wait to start cooking from it.

Reference

The Cook’s Dictionary and Culinary Reference, by Jonathan Bartlett.  I have a paperback version of this title, and it is like a telephone book.  I have a few other big, giant culinary reference books, and it is useful to have a selection of them for cross-reference.  You want to know the history of honey in one page, what a hogplum is, or a one-paragraph synopsis of what Hollandaise Sauce is all about?  This is 500 alphabetical pages of exactly that kind of interesting information.

Desserts

1001 Cookies, by Gregg R. Gillespie.  An American cookie aficionado has produced the logical next step after the beloved 101-ways to cook a chicken-type format.  Yes, it is 1001 recipes, there is a colorful photo of each cookie.  This guy must have been baking cookies for years.  Some of the recipes are transparently similar, with slightly different names, or one or two different ingredients.   There are  quite a number of treasures if you are patient.   But he does surpass 1000 cookies, which is indisputably impressive.

Food Writers

Well, this is presented by the Countess of Toulouse-Latrec:  Chez Maxim’s, Secrets and Recipes from the Wold’s Most Famous Restaurant.  Does it belong on the coffee table or the kitchen table? it’s so beautiful & full of history.  Most importantly, you can reproduce Maxims Souffle’ au Fromage.

Quirks

Hors D’Oeuvres, by Eric Treuille & Victoria Blashford-Snell.  A big, colorful walk through top-drawer finger foods from the 1990s.  None of these starters have gone out of style, the advice on service and production is timeless & excellent; and this was another estate sale find, at a small mansion in Minneapolis last weekend.

You want to say Chocolate in Nahuatl (Aztec)?  This is SO cool:  http://www.howjsay.com/index.php?word=xocolatl

Xocolatl was always reserved for the royal court before the arrival of the Spanish.

Hueytlatoani Matecuhzoma, Rey de los Mexicas de 1502 a 1520- aka Montezuma, if you have read ‘Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook’- served this food of the gods in golden goblets.  It was definitely not your gamma’s can of Hersey’s Chocolate Syrup (remember those?).  “Cacao beans had been roasted, ground, then mixed with corn meal, vanilla, peppers, spices, and herbs.” This is actually more or less correct- yay for Betty Crocker.  And Betty also correctly notes that cacao beans served as currency in the primarily cashless economy of the Aztec empire.

I visited Teotihuacan a little over a year ago and was able to climb the Temple of the Sun with a friend from Fiji and a Maori woman visiting from New Zealand.  Those Aztecs knew what time it was and they made some pretty big clocks and calendars to keep everything on schedule.  They drank their chocolate out of solid gold goblets, which were probably melted down and are now probably adorning the alter of the cathedral in Barcelona or something.

Around the time of the Quincentennial (1992), Peruvian people on the other side of the Equator made a collective statement and demanded of Spain the approximately One Trillion dollars worth of silver alone that was stolen from a mountain in their ancestral domains.  Before Columbus arrived and so rudely interrupted everyone’s civilizations they had been engaging in marvelous, sophisticated agricultural development in the middle of the Amazonian region, terraforming the earth with terra preta.   Of course at the time all of Europe was primarily a gold-based economy, and the Far East was strictly silver, and had been for about 200-300 years already since the Dutch Bourse was founded.  Looking back a century or two before that, the Champagne Fairs had previously confirmed that China and India preferred to trade in silver rather than gold as the precious metal underpinning the economies of their numerous kingdoms and empires.

In this continent, the Aztecs could eat their currency if need be- and that’s an interesting contrast to King Midas, who was not able to eat the food he turned to gold with a touch of his hand.  Not very nutritious, plus it sits a bit heavy on the stomach.  But it was in part gold the reason Cortés showed up in the 1500’s and was introduced to chocolate and maize:  silver showed up on the radar of the Spanish court soon thereafter, and then the ravaging of South America began as well.

Chocolate is one of many foods that we Native American people have developed over the past 10,000 years or so, and which now constitute three-fifths of all crops in cultivation across the globe.  If you sit down to a conventional Thanksgiving dinner, you know what I mean:  Potatoes, corn or cornbread stuffing, cranberries, turkey, pumpkin pie, beans.  Yup that’s all Indigenous – these form part of our collective Native intangible assets, our cultural and intellectual histories.

Until “1492, Europeans had never tasted avocados, beans (lima, kidney, pea, shell, string and others), cacao (for chocolate), cassava, chicle (for chewing gum), chilies, corn, hickory nuts, jicama, maple syrup, manioc, papayas, peanuts, pecans, peppers, persimmons, pineapples, potatoes, pumpkins, squashes, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, tapioca, tomatoes or vanilla. Nor had they worn clothes woven from long-fiber cotton. In all, Native Americans have contributed more than 300 food crops to the world.

“Native Americans in the central Mexican state of Puebla began collecting and domesticating wild plants about 7,000 to 9,000 years ago. By about 6,000 to 7,000 years ago about 10 percent of their food came from cultivated products; by about 5,400 years ago the amount ratcheted up to some 30 percent. Archaeological evidence indicates that by 5000 B.C., Native Americans began farming using indigenous agricultural practices as well as those learned from Mexican and Central American cultures.”  This is a pretty decent summary of the history and impact of Native foods on modern and post-modern human history.  http://www.allbusiness.com/agriculture-forestry-fishing-hunting/331083-1.html

Wikipedia has a more comprehensive examination of Native foods; and an excellent reference book I recommend is “Chilies to Chocolate:  Food the Americas Gave the World”, edited by Nelson Foster & Linda S. Cordell, University of Arizona Press, 1992.  Since that book appeared, another important book has since come to print, although its focus is not specifically on food.

“1491:  New Revelations of the Americas Before Columus” by Charles C. Mann, confirms all of this and additionally presents important new evidence of previously unknown agricultural practice in ancient South America.  “Having secured their food supply, Mesoamerican societies turned to intellectual pursuits.  In a millennium or less, a comparatively short time, they invented their own writing, astonomy, and mathermatics, including the zero.” — from “1491” (c) 2005 Knopt Press. – please see chapter 6 in Section II.

So back to Chocolate.  You want to show some love to your loved-one for Saint Valentine’s Day, and of course chocolate is the one of the holy trinity of Valentine’s Day traditions.  Chocolate, flowers and Valentine’s day cards.  It’s a little more elaborate than A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness,” (Omar Khayyam -1048-1131- a Persian poet, mathematician and astronomer).  I don’t know, this could be a serious toss-up, depending on the wine and the Thou (wink).  Valentine was a Christian martyr and I’m still not completely clear on how Roman religious persecution and violence eventually got conflated with Cupid (who is a primordial god, son of Venus and Mercury- who knew?).

If you crave even more obscure origins of Valentine, go all the way back to Lupercalia, a fertility festival in the pre-Roman world:  “ Lupercalia was a very ancient, possibly pre-Roman pastoral festival, observed on February 15 to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia subsumed Februa, a possibly earlier-origin spring cleansing ritual held on the same date, which gives the month of February its name.”  God I love Wikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lupercalia

So, eat some Godiva chocolates (you know, the lady who rides around naked on a horse), make a batch of fudge, paint your lover’s body with a little melted ganache- and connect the dots between ancient pre-America and ancient pre-Europe.   And thank whichever gods are responsible for giving chocolate to the whole world.

(image courtesy of http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://webhost.bridgew.edu/phayesboh/Clipart/aztec2.gif&imgrefurl=http://webhost.bridgew.edu/phayesboh/&usg=__24rybt6BnKgdQsxLCZ9EY3PXsq0=&h=420&w=419&sz=102&hl=en&start=18&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=wlq8U2gQCEwfVM:&tbnh=125&tbnw=125&prev=/images%3Fq%3Daztec%2Bclipart%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26um%3D1)

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

finished guac and salsa

finished guac and salsa

salsa fixings

salsa fixings

When I entered the whole foods restaurant business I had been prepared

by my family, & my own exploration of foods.  Salsa was a joy to learn,

- with the summer farmers market you can find everything you

need for a very traditional salsa.  You can use it as a springboard

for many other variations.I like color (you eat first with your eyes),

so it's nice to use red onions (or scallion), multicolor tomatoes-

and I love a little heat, but you can keep the Scoville factor down

by removing the inner membrane/seed of a jalapeno (or serrano 

pepper, for that matter). Chilies can vary widely in heat; a jalapeno

grows according to its individual characteristics as well as growing

conditions.  Chili (like coconut and chocolate) is a natural mood

elevator, and is abundant in the Vital Amino (Vitamin) C.  I like

to use a few ingredients that you don't always encounter in US versions

of salsa fresca - namely hickory salt (just a 1/2 tsp in a small batch of

maybe a pint; also a little ground chili powder (any variety- to get an

idea of what's out there, go to 'Seed Search, Native foods' on the web-

you'll also be saving Indigenous seed varieties. I  visited their storefront

in Tucson AZ many times and it's an amazing place.

One other ingredient I really like to use is fresh or dried Epazote,

a piquant Native plant frequently found in Central American Indigenous

cookery, with an intriguing chocolate undertone. When I make

guacamole I usually make salsa fresca first, and then 

combine a little bit with smashed up avocado, along with a little

extra cracked black pepper and maybe a little salt.
A beautiful painting from Mexico

A beautiful painting from Mexico

I made two of the wooden kitchen shelves from reclaimed wood many years ago – they are pretty heavy, considering that they don’t look particularly heavy.

The original watermelon painting I found in Mexico last year (08)- I asked the artist to sign and date the back of it for me- I think it is a TRULY fabulous painting.  It looks like something right out of the 20s- Juan Gris, or some of those cubist types.

I always used to buy seeds from the co-op, so of course it was in little plastic bulk-sales bags, and I’d get them mixed up.  The caraway and the cumin; the anise and the fennel.  None of them had anything indicating what they were- usually just a PLU number- mostly because I thought I could positively identify one from the other (some of them look like each other).  So now I know exactly what everything is, although I had to kind of evolve from ape to man on that one.  The Herbes de Provence I use, and the Spanish smoked paprika is pretty amazing.  You should find some and experiment…..very carefully, but experiment.

Black tea, jasmine extract, Oblaten (for making certain cookies), tomato paste in a tube.  Very important to have at all times

Three shelves of completely tattered and worn out cookbooks.  Some of them do not survive, but I usually find another copy to replace them when I’m lucky.  I write dates and pencil in changes to recipes – I’ve done that for a decade or two I think.  I’m going to put a list together of some of my favorite cookbooks.  I have a lot of standard titles for various categories- i.e. a lot of people would instantly recognize the cookbook or author.  Then there are titles that food freaks know about- Mrs. Beaton, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, books MFK Fisher, Colonial Williamsburg Cookery (a facsimile edition from the 1600s I think), The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, Old Salem Cookery.

I have at least a dozen cookbooks by/for/about Indigenous Foods, and a number of textbooks about them.  The Hopi Cookbook, Aztec Cooking (it’s the only Aztec cookbook I’ve ever seen), A Cherokee cookbook, Northwest Tribal Recipes.  A lot of the cooking information is authentic- and then you also have adapted western ingredients in some as well (wheat flour, leavening, dairy products, etc).  Some of the traditional foods prepared with newer ingredients can be fine- but you also want to know what the real thing is like.  Our tribal communities everywhere were incredibly healthy only a few generations ago because our diets were  rich with wild, good foods, and quite a lot of cultivated ones as well.

I keep a NO WAR pin on my spice rack so I can see it every day all the time.  Behind it in this photo is a poster about traditional Cherokee Foods, in Cherokee language, using the Cherokee Syllabary (sp).  Quite cool.

I’ve made a few pieces in my kitchen workspace that I always keep in use or close by.  I’ve never had a microwave in my life (I got a really shocked look from one of my friends  recently when he was looking around my kitchen to find the food zapper- I’ll be 50 next year), but I do like kitchen tools- from corn shellers to china caps, and Turk’s Caps to big slabs of marble.  I do use a food processor and a big fancy mixing machine that could possibly winch a Cooper Car out of distress if it was hooked up properly.

I have no idea how to align the photographs at this point with the things I’m writing, so this would make a very good rainy day project.

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