Wild rice is a native traditional food of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and some areas of North Dakota.[1]
Wild rice is a native traditional food of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and some areas of North Dakota.[1]

Native American cuisine includes all cuisines and food practices of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Contemporary Native peoples retain a varied culture of traditional foods, along with the addition of some post-contact foods that have become customary and even iconic of present-day Native American social gatherings (for example, frybread). Foods like cornbread, turkey, cranberry, blueberry, hominy and mush have been adopted into the cuisine of the broader United States population from Native American cultures.

In other cases, documents from the early periods of Native American contact with European, African, and Asian peoples have allowed the recovery and revitalization of indigenous food practices that had formerly passed out of popularity.

The most important Native American crops have generally included corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, wild rice, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, avocados, papayas, potatoes and cacao.[1]

Native American food and cuisine is recognized by its use of indigenous domesticated and wild food ingredients.[2] As the Americas cover a large range of biomes, and there are over 500 currently recognized Native American tribes in the US alone, Native American cuisine can vary significantly by region and culture.[3][4] For example, North American Native cuisine differs from Southwestern and Mexican cuisine in its simplicity and directness of flavor. The use of ramps, wild ginger, miners' lettuce, and juniper berry can impart subtle flavours to various dishes.[5]

Background

In traditional tribal societies, the gathering of shellfish, wild plants, berries and seeds is often done by women. Bison have traditionally been an important source of food for the Plains Indians in the area between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.

Recipes were initially passed down through oral tradition. Over a period of hundreds of years, some tribes migrated into different climate zones, so by the time European settlers recorded these recipes the cuisine had probably adapted to use local ingredients. Some anthropologists propose that the southwestern Eastern Pueblo, Hopi and Zuni may have retained more of the original elements.[6]

Native American cuisine of North America

Further information: Eastern Agricultural Complex

Country food

For the American sense of the term, see Cuisine of the Southern United States.

See also: Inuit cuisine

Country food, in Canada, refers to the traditional diets of the Indigenous peoples in Canada (known in Canada as First Nations, Metis, and Inuit), especially in remote northern regions where Western food is an expensive import, and traditional foods are still relied upon.[7][8] [9]

The Government of the Northwest Territories estimated in 2015 that nearly half of Northwest Territories residents in smaller communities relied on country food for 75% of their meat and fish intake; in larger communities the percentage was lower, with the lowest percentage relying on country foods (4%) being in Yellowknife, the capital and only "large community".

The most common country foods in the Northwest Territories' area include mammals and birds (caribou, moose, ducks, geese, seals, hare, grouse, ptarmigan), fish (lake trout, char, inconnu (coney), whitefish, pike, burbot) and berries (blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, cloudberries).[10]

In the eastern Canadian Arctic, Inuit consume a diet of foods that are fished, hunted, and gathered locally. This may include caribou, walrus, ringed seal, bearded seal, beluga whale, polar bear, berries, and fireweed.

The cultural value attached to certain game species, and certain parts, varies. For example, in the James Bay region, a 1982 study found that beluga whale meat was principally used as dog food, whereas the blubber, or muktuk was a "valued delicacy".[11] Value also varies by age, with Inuit preferring younger ring seals, and often using the older ones for dog food.[12]

Contaminants in country foods are a public health concern in Northern Canada; volunteers are tested to track the spread of industrial chemicals from emitters (usually in the South) into the northern food web via the air and water.[13]

In 2017, the Government of the Northwest Territories committed to using country foods in the soon-to-open Stanton Territorial Hospital, despite the challenges of obtaining, inspecting, and preparing sufficient quantities of wild game and plants.[14]

In Southern Canada, wild foods (especially meats) are relatively rare in restaurants, due to wildlife conservation rules against selling hunted meat, as well as strict meat inspection rules. There is a cultural divide between rural and remote communities that rely on wild foods, and urban Canadians (the majority), who have little or no experience with them.[15]

A 19th-century illustration, "Sugar-Making Among the Indians in the North". Aboriginal peoples living in the northeastern part of North America were the first people known to have produced maple syrup and maple sugar
A 19th-century illustration, "Sugar-Making Among the Indians in the North". Aboriginal peoples living in the northeastern part of North America were the first people known to have produced maple syrup and maple sugar

Eastern Native American cuisine

Further information: Three Sisters (agriculture)

The essential staple foods of the Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands have traditionally been corn (also known as maize), beans, and squash, known as "The Three Sisters" because they were planted interdependently: the beans grew up the tall stalks of the corn, while the squash spread out at the base of the three plants and provided protection and support for the root systems.

Maple syrup is another essential food staple of the Eastern Woodlands peoples. Tree sap is collected from sugar maple trees during the beginning of springtime when the nights are still cold.[16] Birch bark containers are used in the process of making maple syrup, maple cakes, maple sugar, and maple taffy. When the sap is boiled to a certain temperature, the different variations of maple food products are created. When the sap starts to thicken, it can be poured into the snow to make taffy.[17]

Since the first colonists of New England had to adapt their foods to the local crops and resources, the Native influences of Southern New England Algonquian cuisine form a significant part of New England cuisine with dishes such as cornbread, succotash and Johnnycakes and ingredients such as corn, cranberries and local species of clam still enjoyed in the region today.[18]

The Wabanaki tribal nations and other eastern woodlands peoples have made nut milk and infant formula made from nuts and cornmeal.[19][20][21]

Southern Native American cuisine

Southeastern Native American culture has formed the cornerstone of Southern cuisine from its origins till the present day. From Southeastern Native American culture came one of the main staples of the Southern diet: corn (maize), either ground into meal or limed with an alkaline salt to make hominy, using a Native American technique known as nixtamalization.[22] Corn is used to make all kinds of dishes from the familiar cornbread and grits.

Though a less important staple, potatoes were also adopted from Native American cuisine and have been used in many ways similar to corn. Native Americans introduced the first non-Native American Southerners to many other vegetables still familiar on southern tables. Squash, pumpkin, many types of beans, tomatoes, many types of peppers, and sassafras all came to the settlers via Indigenous peoples. The Virginia Algonquian word pawcohiccora means hickory-nut meat or a nut milk drink made from it.

Many fruits are available in this region. Muscadines, blackberries, raspberries, and many other wild berries were part of Southern Native Americans' diet.

To a far greater degree than anyone realizes, several of the most important food dishes of the Southeastern Indians live on today in the "soul food" eaten by both black and white Southerners. Hominy, for example, is still eaten ... Sofkee live on as grits ... cornbread [is] used by Southern cooks ... Indian fritters ... variously known as "hoe cake", ... or "Johnny cake." ... Indians boiled cornbread is present in Southern cuisine as "corn meal dumplings", ... and as "hush puppies", ... Southerns cook their beans and field peas by boiling them, as did the Indians ... like the Indians they cure their meat and smoke it over hickory coals.

— Charles Hudson, The Southeastern Indians[23]

Southeastern Native Americans traditionally supplement their diets with meats derived from the hunting of native game. Venison has always been an important meat staple, due to the abundance of white-tailed deer in the area. Rabbits, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons are also common.

Livestock, adopted from Europeans, in the form of hogs and cattle, are also kept. Aside from the more commonly consumed parts of the animal, it is traditional to also eat organ meats such as liver, brains, and intestines. This tradition remains today in hallmark dishes like chitterlings, commonly called chitlins, which are the fried large intestines of hogs; livermush, a common dish in the Carolinas made from hog liver; and pork brains and eggs. The fat of the animals, particularly of hogs, is traditionally rendered and used for cooking and frying. Many of the early settlers were taught Southeastern Native American cooking methods.

Selected dishes

Great Plains Native American cuisine

Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies or Plains Indians have historically relied heavily on American bison (American buffalo) as a staple food source. One traditional method of preparation is to cut the meat into thin slices then dry it, either over a slow fire or in the hot sun, until it is hard and brittle. In this form it can last for months, making it a main ingredient to be combined with other foods, or eaten on its own.

One such use could be pemmican, a concentrated mixture of fat and protein, and fruits such as cranberries, Saskatoon berries, blueberries, cherries, chokecherries, and currants are sometimes added. Many parts of the bison were utilized and prepared in numerous ways, including: "boiled meat, tripe soup perhaps thickened with brains, roasted intestines, jerked/smoked meat, and raw kidneys, liver, tongue sprinkled with gall or bile were eaten immediately after a kill."[25]

The animals that Great Plains Indians consumed, like bison, deer, and antelope, were grazing animals. Due to this, they were high in omega-3 fatty acids, an essential acid that many diets lack.[26]

When asked to state traditional staple foods, a group of Plains elders identified prairie turnips, fruits (chokecherries, June berries, plums, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, buffalo berries, gooseberries), potatoes, squash, dried meats (venison, buffalo, jack rabbit, pheasant, and prairie chicken), and wild rice as being these staple foods.[27] And pemmican.

Western Native American cuisine

In the Pacific Northwest, traditional diets include salmon and other fish, seafood, mushrooms, berries, and meats such as deer, duck, and rabbit.

In contrast to the Easterners, the Northwestern peoples are traditionally hunter-gatherers, primarily. The generally mild climate led to the development of an economy based on year-round abundant food supplies, rather than having to rely upon seasonal agriculture.

In what is now California, acorns can be ground into a flour that has at times served as the principal foodstuff for about 75 percent of the population,[28] and dried meats can be prepared during the dry season.[29]

Southwestern Native American cuisine

Ancestral Puebloans of the present-day Four Corners region of the United States, comprising Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, initially practiced subsistence agriculture by cultivating maize, beans, squash, sunflower seeds, and pine nuts from the pinyon pine, and game meat including venison and cuniculture, and freshwater fish such as Rio Grande cutthroat trout and rainbow trout are also traditional foods in the region.

Ancestral Puebloans are also known for their basketry and pottery, indicating both an agricultural surplus that needed to be carried and stored, and clay pot cooking. Grinding stones have been used to grind maize into meal for cooking. Archaeological digs indicate a very early domestication of turkeys for food.

New Mexican cuisine is heavily rooted in both Pueblo and Hispano food traditions, and is a prevalent cuisine in the American Southwest, it is especially prevalent in New Mexico.

The 2002 Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations won a James Beard Award, the first Native American cookbook so honored.[30][31] Publishers had told the author, Lois Ellen Frank, that there was no such thing as Native American cuisine.[32]

Alaskan native cuisine

Alaska native cuisine consists of nutrient-dense foods such as seal, fish (salmon), and moose. Along with these, berries (huckleberries) and bird eggs are traditionally consumed by Alaska Natives.[33]

Seal, walruses, and polar bear are the large game that Alaska Natives hunt. Smaller game includes whitefish, Arctic char, Arctic hare, and ptarmigan.

Due to weather, edible plants like berries are only available to be consumed in the summer, so the people have a diet very high in fat and protein, but low in carbohydrates.

The game that is hunted is also used for clothing. The intestines of large mammals are used to make waterproof clothing and caribou fur is used to make warm clothing.[34]

Dishes

Cornbread
Succotash
Drying salmon filets
Drying salmon filets

Native American cuisine of the Circum-Caribbean

Jerk chicken with plaintains, rice and honey biscuit
Jerk chicken with plaintains, rice and honey biscuit

This region comprises the cultures of the Arawaks, the Caribs, and the Ciboney. The Taíno of the Greater Antilles were the first New World people to encounter Columbus. Prior to European contact, these groups foraged, hunted, and fished. The Taíno cultivated cassava, sweet potato, maize, beans, squash, pineapple, peanut, and peppers. Today these cultural groups have mostly assimilated into the surrounding population, but their culinary legacy lives on.

Native American cuisine of Mesoamerica

Tamales
Tamales
Pupusas
Pupusas

Main articles: Aztec cuisine and Maya cuisine

The pre-conquest cuisine of the Native Americans of Mesoamerica made a major contribution to shaping modern-day Mexican cuisine, Salvadoran cuisine, Honduran cuisine, Guatemalan cuisine. The cultures involved included the Aztec, Maya, Olmec, Pipil and many more (see the List of pre-Columbian civilizations).

Some known dishes

Native American cuisine of South America

Roast guinea pig (cuy)
Roast guinea pig (cuy)
Ceviche
Cheese-filled arepa
Cheese-filled arepa
Chipa, cheese bread
Chipa, cheese bread

Andean cultures

Main articles: Inca cuisine and Muisca cuisine

This currently includes recipes known from the Quechua, Aymara and Nazca of the Andes.

Other South American cultures

Cooking utensils

Metate and mano
Metate and mano

The earliest utensils, including bowls, knives, spoons, grinders, and griddles, were made from all kinds of materials, such as rock and animal bone. Gourds were also initially cultivated, hollowed, and dried to be used as bowls, spoons, ladles, and storage containers.

Many Native American cultures also developed elaborate pottery traditions for making bowls and cooking pots, and basketry for making containers. Nobility in the Andean and Mesoamerican civilizations were even known to have utensils and vessels smelted from gold, silver, copper, or other minerals.

Crops and ingredients

A russet potato with sprouts
A russet potato with sprouts
The bean pods of the mesquite (above) can be dried and ground into flour, adding a sweet, nutty taste to breads
The bean pods of the mesquite (above) can be dried and ground into flour, adding a sweet, nutty taste to breads
A maple syrup tap
A maple syrup tap
Several large pumpkins
Several large pumpkins
Acorns of sessile oak. The acorn, or oak nut, is the nut of the oaks and their close relatives (genera Quercus and Lithocarpus, in the family Fagaceae).
Acorns of sessile oak. The acorn, or oak nut, is the nut of the oaks and their close relatives (genera Quercus and Lithocarpus, in the family Fagaceae).

Non-animal foodstuffs

Hunted or livestock

Bison cow and calf
Bison cow and calf
Moose

Notable chefs and food writers

See also

References

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  2. ^ "Welcome to NativeTech: Indigenous Food and Traditional Recipes". NativeTech: Native American Technology & Art.
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  9. ^ http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/sites/enr/files/weights_of_wildlife.pdf "in deriving estimates of the economic value of wildlife used as food (known in northern Canada as country food or traditional food)..." page 2
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  11. ^ http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/sites/enr/files/weights_of_wildlife.pdf page 16
  12. ^ Ashley, pg 22
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  14. ^ "Traditional Indigenous food in a hospital? That's the plan for new N.W.T. Facility | CBC News".
  15. ^ "Kill What You Eat". April 10, 2017.
  16. ^ www.d.umn.edu (PDF) http://www.d.umn.edu/~tbates/curricularesources/MapleSyruping/MapleSugarbushFAQs.pdf. Retrieved December 15, 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ We Choose To Remember More Memories of the Red Lake Ojibwe People, Arrow Printing, Bemidji, MN Copyright 1991 Nerburn, Dr. Kent, Project Director. Bemidji, Minnesota: Arrow Printing. 1991. p. 8.
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Bibliography