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May 24, 2011

Celebrating Minnesota’s Native Heritage and Foods

Filed under: Book Excerpt, Cooking, Event, MHS press — Alison Aten @ 3:02 pm

The Minnesota Ethnic Food BookThis Saturday, May 28, the Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis celebrates  Minnesota’s Native heritage and foods: wild rice, maple syrup, and bison.

Interested in learning more about traditional Native American foodways? The Minnesota Ethnic Food Book begins with a chapter on the Ojibway:

“Traditionally, the Ojibway migrated in the spring to obtain sugar sap from the maples, in the summer to find berries, wild greens, and herbs, in the fall to harvest wild rice, and in winter to kill game and spear fish. Consequently the lunar phases of the yearly cycle were identified by food availability. For example, September was Moon of Ricing, and April was Moon of Sugar Making—names that modern Ojibway remember . . .

“Today, as in former times, important occasions in Indian life are associated with food—naming a child, marriages, deaths, the change of season, and religious events. Many aspects of food and diet are sacred to the Ojibway; they are intertwined with religion and provide a guide to the treatment of the land and its products. Plants, trees, animals, and grasses all have a purpose and are a gift that the Ojibway hold in reverence. Because this bounty was placed on earth to be used as food or medicine, it must be managed carefully to ensure its presence for generations to come. Wild rice, maple sugar, and various wild game are integral parts of religious feasts and private powwows. This sacred use of food is a personal matter that most Ojibway prefer not to discuss . . .

“In most instances, the men hunted and fished and butchered the meat. Women cooked, gathered berries, herbs, and wild greens, raised crops, processed the animal hides, and preserved the meat. Children helped in all of these activities, observing the procedures and practices and learning by doing it for their own later use as adults. The family as a whole was involved in ricing and maple-sugar making.

“Until the early reservation years, Indians in general used two thousand different foods derived from plants alone, not to mention the available wildlife. Nuts, berries, greens, onions, turtle eggs, camas bulbs, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, and numerous other foodstuffs formed part of the Ojibway diet.

“Because of the nomadic life the Ojibway led, they frequently prepared one-pot meals over an open fire. Whenever weather permitted, this fire would be outdoors, but on rainy days or in the depths of winter it was moved to the center of the large wigwams, which housed one or more families. Foods were cooked in a birch-bark container suspended from a tripod over a low fire that provided continuous heat. The cooks dropped hot rocks, taken from the coals, into the water-filled bark containers, which would not burn as long as there was still water in the vessel. The rocks brought the water to a low boil sufficient to cook all the ingredients of the one-pot meal. Later the manomin (wild rice) or napodin (dumplings) might be added.”

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