Skip to main content

Native Cooking

Although there are pow wows and festivals all over the country all year long, here in New England outdoor venues are slowing down somewhat. Recently, a festival of which I am co-chairman was held at a beautiful state park with two miles of beach on Long Island Sound, Hammonasset Beach State Park in Connecticut. We held a smaller version two years ago with the theme of celebrating Nature and Native Americans. It seems to be a natural blend.

Native Americans are the stewards of the land, living and understanding every bit of it. ''We belong to the Earth, it does not belong to us,'' as the great Chief Seattle observed.

Today, fortunately, there are many people of all cultures who have a strong interest in preserving the environment and in all things natural. These interests came together beautifully. At our first pow wow/festival, we enjoyed the tail end of a recent hurricane as winds tore through the site and took down tents and displays during the night. Rain, fog and drizzle followed the next day. It did not deter many who came with rain gear, umbrellas and enthusiasm. Undaunted, they trudged on through the mud and asked us to please do it again.

The next year, we did not have the resources but hoped to keep peoples' interest by holding a concert featuring Grammy nominee Joseph Fire Crow. His words of wisdom, voice and carriage speak volumes. This year we invited him again, as well as many fine craft vendors, museums, nature centers and food vendors. The weather was perfect both days. The dancers and drums delighted all ages as they educated the audience before each number. The Native food vendors had long lines and great food! Raves everywhere, and not a clamcake left!


Venison Burgers

1 pound ground venison

1 onion, chopped small

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 egg

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 strip bacon, cooked and set aside

Combine ground venison in a large bowl with the rest of ingredients, including cooked bacon. Crumble the bacon into the mixture and form patties. Saute the patties for about 5 minutes per side and serve on toasted buns. The bacon gives more flavor (read: fat) to the lean venison meat.


Succotash Clam Chowder

12 littleneck clams, scrubbed

1 cup corn kernels, fresh or canned

1 cup lima beans, canned or frozen

1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped small

2 strips bacon, cut in 1/2-inch pieces

1 sweet onion, chopped small

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

2 cups water

2 cups clam broth

1 cup heavy cream

Fresh ground black pepper

Steam the clams in 2 cups of water in a heavy pot and remove clams with tongs when they open. Let cool, then set aside in a bowl. Do not discard water. In a heavy frying pan, saute the bacon, onion and red bell pepper in canola oil for about 10 minutes. Put onion/bacon mixture into the clam water and add enough water and/or clam juice to make about 4 cups of liquid. Stir in parsley and thyme. Boil gently for 5 minutes. Add cream, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the corn and limas. Remove most of the clams from the shells and add to pot.

Save about 3 or 4 clams in the shell and put them in, too, just for presentation. Sprinkle with the black pepper and let chowder sit for about 20 to 30 minutes or refrigerate overnight.


Hominy and Butternut

1 cup hominy, white or yellow

1 medium butternut squash

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon each: cumin and brown sugar

1 dash salt

2 tablespoons dried cranberries

Cook squash and mash it. Put butter in a saute pan and melt it, then add mashed squash and hominy. Stir around on low heat for about 5 minutes. Add cumin, sugar and salt. (Drain hominy if using canned.) Dried cranberries are optional, but they add more sweetness.


Wild Rice with Cranberries

3 cups cooked wild rice

1 bag frozen cranberries or 2 cups fresh

1/2 cup orange marmalade

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cooked rice, cranberries and marmalade in a greased baking dish. Cover and bake for 30 - 35 minutes.


Notes and Tips

* A really nice taste combo I discovered recently is mashed butternut mixed with mashed carrots and then a dash of cinnamon.

* If you make deviled eggs, here's a way to do it fast. Put yolks and other ingredients in a strong (freezer-type) plastic bag, then mush it around and cut a small piece of bottom corner off and use it like a pastry pipe bag to fill the whites. This technique also works for filling manicotti tubes.

* To keep tortillas hot at the table, put them between two hot plates.