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Native Cooking

As the days shorten, I am reminded how diverse our culture can be and how many names there are for this period of time. The Abenaki call December Pebonkas, ''Winter Moon Maker''; in other Algonquin dialects, December is Papsapquoho; and Ojibwe call it Manidoo-gizisoons or ''Small Spirits Moon.'' To the Cheyenne, it is the ''Moon when the Wolves Run Together''; Mohawk say it is the time of cold, or Tsothohrha; and in Passamaquoddy, it is Punam, Frost Fish Moon. That is only five or six of the 500-plus nations we are. Whatever it is called by your people, it is a time to huddle together and renew family as we watch Nature undergo yet another amazing change.

As harvesting work winds down, work of other varieties continues. We crave the companionship of friends and family. They comply and we rejoice in their visits and visiting them. These natural feelings and occurrences happen with or without a name; however, we have come to call them ''the holidays.'' With this in mind, remember how the smells of the season can make your home feel welcoming, like the aroma of baking bread, orange peel on the woodstove, cinnamon, clove, cedar and other pine aromas. Don't these crisp winter scents jog your senses of good times past and good times to come? It works for me, and I want to share some ideas for you to share with others.

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Abenaki Venison Roast

Plain and simple, use what's at hand. That's how deer meat has been fixed by our people for all of our time. This is an easy way to make the most of a meat that is free and delicious.

1 venison roast, 6 to 8 pounds

2 cups maple syrup

Puncture the roast with a fork, ice pick or meat tenderizer tool and place in a roasting pan. Cover with maple syrup and let it sit at room temperature for 4 - 6 hours. Now cover and put in the fridge for two days, rotating twice a day.

On cooking day, preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Spoon any syrup in the bottom of the pan over the top (like basting) and roast in the syrup, covered, for about 3 1/2 to 4 hours until tender.

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A note about venison. It can, indeed, be gamey and just about always needs to marinate. If the animal has been corn-fed, and some are, they are good enough to use in other red meat recipes. For steaks, quick, fast grilling or broiling is recommended. If the venison is wild or old, it is best to remove it from the bone before cooking, as the bone makes it taste strong or gamey. This meat is usually very lean and needs a little fat to make it palatable. Adding some ground pork to ground venison will make a great improvement. (This is a good way to go if you're making chili with it.)

A bit of chorizo in there adds a superb dimension. A slice or two of bacon helps out a roast. A slow cooker is best for stewing cuts, plus it adds moisture - though you still need to marinate. Using wild mushrooms will enhance the flavor of a stew, chili or steak.

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Celery Root Salad

3 celery roots, medium size, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 pound cooked ham

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise

1 small (4-oz.) can sliced black olives, drained

Peel the celery roots and grate as fine as possible in a medium-sized bowl. Sprinkle with the lemon juice. Use a small bowl to mix the salt, mayo and mustard together until smooth and pour over celery root; mix well. Cut ham into thin sticks, sprinkle over the celery root mixture and top with olives. Mix lightly and chill before serving.

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Notes and Tips

-- I know I have mentioned my ''cooking rocks'' before and they are, indeed, very valid kitchen utensils. I have three of them: a large (about 5 inches with a flat bottom and 4 inches high); a medium (about the same size, but only 2 inches high, really flat); and a small (3 inches round). The large is used for weighing down lids or things that soak, like eggplant. The medium is good for weighting grilled cheeses, bison burgers - anything that needs to be flat and kept warm. The little one is very handy, and I used it the other day to balance a one-sided acorn squash that just would not stand up straight: the stone was like a shim. Keeping them on the stovetop makes it easy to grab them for many other quick uses.