Culinary History Collection


Current Editor: Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Issue 7 Winter 2005

Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions

by Fernando and Marlene Divina

Published by Ten Speed Press in association with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, 2004

One of the newest additions to the Culinary Collection is a very beautiful cookbook focusing on Native American foods and traditions. The book also includes numerous photographs.

The cover greets you with two photographs: one of multicolored Indian corn and autumn orange squash and other with a family enjoying a picnic under the shade of a tree. This book "celebrates the amazing diversity of the original foods of north, central, and south America." The Americas include over thirty countries and contains 140 recipes that are both traditional and contemporary. In addition to the recipes there are short essays by American Indian writers about indigenous food traditions.

"Native American groups have acquired intimate knowledge of the foods that surround them, and they have cultivated to the fullest the food sources nearest at hand. Plains Indian tribes used every part of the buffalo they hunted.......and with the cultivation of maize, beginning some seven to ten thousand years ago in Mexico; corn became the physical and spiritual foundation of most American Indian cultures.

It is fascinating to look at some of the foods that originated in the Americas. Potatoes, tomatoes, chilies, turkey, buffalo, wild rice, avocados, pineapple, papaya, sunflowers, pecans, peanuts, tapioca, chocolate, and vanilla are just a few of the foods that familiar to each of us. "Recipes included in this cookbook represent modern cultures of the Americas....and are designed to perpetuate a truly American tradition."

Chapter One: Small Plates and Appetizers.

The recipe for Guacamole includes a description of a "molcajete". This Mexican basalt mortar bowl is used for mashing foods and spices. It comes with a "tejolte," or pestle. Using this "produces a most delightful chunky texture, and the flavors are contained rather than lost on a cutting surface...and the mortar becomes a perfect serving bowl."

Chapter Two: Cold Sauces, Relishes & Salads

Some examples of recipes included in this chapter are: Wild Plum Catsup, Elderberry Catsup, Pickled Red Onions, and Wildflower and Honey Vinaigrette. The latter is good tossed with lettuces, apples and pears. It can also be drizzled over a ripe melon or used as a marinade over chicken or fish.

Chapter Three: Soups

"Methods of boning and simmering have been used by native people for millennia." Recipes include: Roast Pumpkin Soup, Fava Bean Soup with Mint, and Hazelnut Soup. "Native people of the northern woodlands regions prepared nuts in many ways" These soups are served with cornbread or other breads.

Chapter Four: Meats & Wild Game

Native Americans had meats of wild deer, wild boar, wild turkey, buffalo and other game. People of the western hemisphere shared the tradition of fire-pit cookery. Recipes for "Charqui" or jerky, Wild Boar Loin Roast, and Caldo are included in this chapter which focuses on meat.

Chapter Five: Game Birds and Fowl

A recipe is for Roast Wild Goose offers the following description: "It can be sumptuous and moist when lemons are inserted into the cavity before roasting, as they have a tenderizing effect." The recipe for Juniper Roast Quail with Pinon Nut Buckskin Cakes and Pan Gravy was inspired by the Arizona desert where quail have been hunted for centuries.

Chapter Six: Foods from Rivers, Lakes, and Oceans

Recipes in this chapter include: Smoked Herring, Catfish Stew with Succotash, and Pan-Fried Frog Legs. Page 126 features a photograph of a nineteenth-century haida carved sheep-horn bowl. These bowls were "usually filled with oil or grease rendered from seal or whale blubber....guests dip chunks of dried salmon, potatoes, and other foods into the grease to all richness and flavor."

Chapter Seven: Breads & Savory Cakes

Fry Bread which must be served immediately after preparation is made from flour, baking powder, salt and water along with corn oil for frying. This chapter also includes recipes for Corn Meal Cakes, Acorn Bread, and Buckskin Cakes-named for their color-and Cattail Cakes.

Chapter Eight: Sweets and Desserts

Chocolate has been called "the food of the gods." The cacao tree is native to South and Central America, and provides the raw material for chocolate. Recipes for Baked Pumpkin with Corn and Apple Pudding, Raw Fresh Berry Jam, Maple Syrup Pie, Navajo Tea, and Hot Chocolate are just a few of the recipes in this chapter.

Foods of the Americas is a very interesting and exciting cookbook to read. It is a page-turner with lessons about native traditions, foods, ingredients and utensils.

I highly recommend it to you.
Sandy Bosworth

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