Memorial Day was once known as Decoration Day, and still is by some. It began in 1868 to honor the fallen soldiers of the Union in the Civil War, then Southern organizations began their own tributes so by the 20th century it spread nationwide to honor all those who have died in all wars while serving the United States forces.
Now it has become a more general day of remembrance for all who have passed whether serving in the military or not. Still, it is important to note this fact stated by Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Cheyenne): “Native people serve, and have served historically, in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnic group in the United States.” A fine and lovely tribute to the warrior spirit of all Native Americans. They were scouts during the War of 1812 and the Spanish American War, code talkers in WWII, Ira Hayes of Iwo Jima fame, Lori Piestewa, Duane Williams and five Native American Medal of Honorees. There are dozens more I could list, but the point is that Native Americans have been there when needed and proud to fight for their land and country.
Memorial Day has become more than a day of remembrance, it has taken on the role of "let’s celebrate and begin the great days of summer." This will last until Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer. A lot of folks use this holiday to move their primary cooking from the inside kitchen to the outside grilling area. Families gather to celebrate, there are parades, picnics, races of all kinds, happy times with reunions, old friends plus new, and the grand unifier—FOOD! Let’s face it, we can always make hot dogs and hamburgers, but the times call for us to get creative and be healthier. Salads and succotash are great sides with any grilled meats.
Slaw with a bit of spice
1 head of cabbage, cored, quartered, sliced thin
1 large sweet onion, sliced thin
1 bell pepper, red or green, cut in fine strips
1 large carrot, peeled, cut fine or grate
1 small jimica, cut in very fine strips
2 hot red peppers, crushed
3 tablespoons light vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup sugar or substitute equivalent
1/2 teaspoon caraway or celery seeds
Salt & pepper to taste
Put the red peppers in a small pan with the oil and heat for ten minutes, do not let the oil smoke. Set the peppers aside. Put the thin sliced cabbage in a large bowl and pour the oil from the pan over the cabbage and toss well to coat. Now you can use the same small pan to heat the sugar, ¼ cup of water and the onion slices. Bring this to a boil, then let cool before adding it to the cabbage. Toss again, then add the vinegar, red or green pepper, carrot and jimica strips. Toss again and add salt and pepper and caraway or celery seeds. Refrigerate overnight and toss again before serving.
A succotash can be any combination of corn and beans. This is our favorite version. It's a double recipe for more than 6 people for your Memorial Day festivities.
1 cup fresh corn
1 cup fresh lima beans
½ cup chopped onion is optional
Heat together on stove top with broth or butter. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.