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Native Cooking

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The more glitz, gewgaws and totally useless “stuff” I see in stores these days, the more I long for a simpler time and honorable values. There are probably lots of people who think all those material goodies are nice and want them; that’s their choice. I’m choosing to transport myself back to simpler times and classic choices. I hope some of you do too.

Gift giving should be more personal and humble. People we love give out hints all year, sometimes without even knowing it. You know how your mom’s garden gloves are full of holes, or she can never find a favorite knife, or Dad would love to read his favorite newspaper at home instead of buying it out. Your brother gets flat tires a lot and could use one or two of those inflation cans. I’ve learned that by just paying attention all year you can pick up lots of ideas; however, you need to write them down or they just vanish when you try to think of them.

Then, there is always the best gift of all – something you made. Of course, I was getting around to food. Home-baked goodies and things like canned goods or relishes from your garden’s bounty are always welcome. A gift from the heart cannot only make you feel good, but can teach your children as well. Have your child go through the toys and books that they have and pick out some they don’t play with anymore. Then, clean them up if necessary and donate them to a toy drive or to someone you know who might appreciate the gesture. Your child will feel good about it too and learn that giving IS the gift. If you can afford it, take your child to a toy store and let them pick a new toy to give. (Used toys are sometimes not allowed at donation centers so check it out first.)

Kids can also be helpful in the kitchen. If you make fudge or other candies, kids can help by stirring and wrapping individual pieces. Should you make breads or other homemade goodies for elders you know, let the children present them. Lots of smiles will happen.


You’ll probably be having lots of company – or not – but either way it’s nice to have the house smelling good, if only for yourself. I love the aroma of cedar, so boiling up some greens and the bark of the aromatic cedar in an old pot gives off a nice scent. I put some on the woodstove once and they caught fire, so not a good idea. You can put small pieces of orange peel on a woodstove; or moistened cinnamon stick (this is relatively safe, but keep an eye on it). This recipe makes a “scentsible” gift in a little pouch of some sort (muslin or calico). You could give it in leather, but tell the recipient to put that in a shallow bowl.

<b>Potpourri Smell Good</b>

1 quart pine needles

1 cup shredded and dried orange and/or lemon peel

1 cup dried sage

1/2 cup basil

4 bay leaves, crumbled

2 cups coarse salt

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Combine all together in a large bowl and package in pouches. (You could also put this in a gift basket with honey, maple syrup, wild rice, cornbread mix, hot chocolate packets, etc. ... all Native goodies.) Another good idea is pine cones scented with a drop or two of cedar or cinnamon oil.


One of the prime rules for this season of giving is planning ahead. If you are a hunter who has made a lot of pemmican or some smoked turkey, or has a frozen larder of venison, you know this is a treasure of a gift. Or are you a fisherman who has smoked a lot of salmon or bluefish, maybe some oysters, clams, even herring? Delicacies like this are always “in.” When you are smokin’, fishin’ and freezin’, think ahead a little and make extra. It’s easy and the rewards are great.

You know, there are so many things for which people are famous, and they should know it and go with it. I love chutneys, condiments, jams and jellies, pickles and things that are pickled. That kind of gift is special. Don’t be shy: if you make something well, people will appreciate it as a gift. Craft supplies are another welcome gift. Pine cones, sweetgrass, cedar chips, herbs like mint, beads, seeds, beans of various kinds in a glass jar, wild rice, popping corn and anything natural in a pretty practical container are easy, inexpensive and thoughtful.


<b>Notes and Tips </b>

* Bundles of kindling wood wrapped with a pretty ribbon is a good hostess gift.

* Let children cut up old cards and make decorations or “new” cards with their own sentiment on them.

* Color-copy some photos of good times in the year past and frame them for the grandparents.

* Candles are always a good bet.

* I certainly hope every person who reads this knows that I am wishing you good, happy and warm memories from this holiday season.

<i>I want to thank all of you who have sent in suggestions and ideas to I am always learning things. Please let me know what YOU want to see for recipes in this column.

Dale Carson is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking” (temporarily out of print), “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.”

For ordering information write to Dale Carson, P.O. Box 13, Madison, CT 06443 or e-mail