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Native Cooking

All across the Northern Hemisphere right now, farmers and gardeners are facing the end of summer. Fall, of course, promises more harvests, yet there is quite a bit of excess produce to deal with now. If you have bushels of tomatoes, or green and yellow summer squash, you know what I’m talking about. I was just “gifted” with a giant green squash that looks like a war club, and could probably deliver the same damage. Today was very busy at our house, but there were tons of green beans that could not be ignored for another day without being “processed”; and tomatoes – I don’t even want to think about them!

Our ancestors would laugh at these wimpy complaints. They had to preserve food to survive the winter – a matter of life and death. Not many methods of preservation were available to them, so most foods were dried or smoked. Both of these methods are quite time-consuming as close attention to weather and fire has to be maintained. In most cases, a container for the finished product needed to be handmade, such as birch bark baskets and leather pouches. Drying racks were constructed with care to keep wildlife from getting at the food.

Tribal people knew and know the virtue of working together for the good of all. We should not let this knowledge and these processes of growing and preserving become lost, especially in these very unstable times.

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<b>Potato Salad a la Bill Ellis</b>

2 pounds red potatoes, skin on

4 stalks celery, including green leaves

2 scallions, including greens

1/2 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled

3/4 cup mayonnaise (or substitute)

Cook potatoes until just fork-tender and cool them immediately in ice water to keep them from getting soft and mealy. Cut into bite-size chunks and toss with the rest of the ingredients. Cover and chill for 6 hours or overnight to allow tastes to meld. Add a little lemon juice, pickle juice or vinegar to bring out the flavors (salt would do the same, but the bacon provides plenty).

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<b>Acorn Squash and a Variety of Stuffings</b>

2 acorn squash, medium or large

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut each squash in half, then seed and trim the bottom ends so the squash will stand upright and straight after filling. Put the squash halves on a greased baking sheet with the skin side up. Bake for 35 minutes. Set aside to cool, then invert them to be filled.

<b>Fillings</b>

1. Wild and brown rice with some chopped onion. (This is also good with some pine nuts and dried cranberries added.)

2. Some brown sugar or maple sugar and a tablespoon of butter.

3. Succotash makes a colorful stuffing.

4. Mix fresh cranberries and cut-up apple together with brown sugar.

5. Cook butternut pulp, add a little butter and sprinkle the top with pine nuts.

6. Mashed sweet and white potatoes work well topped with a sprinkle of smoked chipotle seasoning.

(Raw acorn squash shells, cut and seeded as above, make great containers to serve corn relish, guacamole, cranberry sauce, bean or vegetable dips, mincemeat – even some soups.)

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<b>Butternut Squash</b>

Butternut and other winter squash, as well as spinach and sweet potatoes, are very rich in beta carotene. Studies have proven that foods rich in beta carotene lower the risk of developing cataracts and put people at a lesser risk of developing certain kinds of cancer. These foods are also high in potassium and vitamin C.

Butternut squash can be stored for months. One year we had one of our own in March. If you have the room to store them, that’s fine; if not you can freeze it raw or cooked. Add chunks of frozen raw squash to soups and stews. To cook the pulp for freezing, cut lengthwise, seed and place cut-side down on a greased baking sheet. Roast in a 350 degree oven for 50 – 60 minutes. Let cool, then remove pulp gently with a soup spoon. Freeze in bags the appropriate size for serving usage.

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<b>Notes and Tips</b>

-- I save a lot of time preparing green beans by using my old kitchen scissors to cut both the ends off instead of a paring knife.

-- When shopping, I ask for paper in plastic bags because the quality of both has been compromised. For light shopping days, I carry a couple of large canvas bags that could hold rocks (not that I buy rocks, of course).

-- I do keep rocks, however, for use by the stove to hold down lids, press hamburgers and grilled-cheese sandwiches, straighten “curly” pork chops and perform all kinds of other unusual cooking duties.