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Native Cooking Column by Dale Carson

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Bread is one of the oldest and most satisfying foods there is. Since early man learned to plant seeds and how to use fire, there has been bread. Every cultural region in the entire world has a form of bread unique to its locale. I love hearty, crusty bread with nuts and/or dried fruits added. Here are a few ideas for you.

Flour Tortillas
2 cups of flour
1/4 cup of lard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lukewarm water

Mix the flour and salt together in a big bowl. Use your hands to work the lard into the flour mixture, then add the water, mixing and kneading the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into 10 balls, pat them flat, stretch them and, if you have to use a rolling pin to make them really, really flat, then do it.

Get a griddle or frying pan really hot and drop bake the tortillas one side at a time until it looks spotty, or freckled. Serve warm immediately or store for later use.

Then there is the adobe bread, the Hopi blue corn bread called piki, and the corn tortilla also of the Southwest. In the Northwest there is the Buckskin bread, Bannock of the Plains and Great Lakes, corn pone of the South and regular corn bread which is all over. Last, but not least, there is good ol' Injun' Fry Bread. These mentioned are but a few varieties of what you would call everyday breads. Then there are small breads and cakes like strawberry, hazelnut, pinon, ashcakes (appones), chestnut, cranberry, pumpkin, blueberry which are but a few of the types made all over Indian country.

Metis Bread

Molasses and maple sugar were two sweeteners used in early French-Canadian cooking. In winter the molasses was imported from the West Indies, come spring when the sap flowed, the maple syrup or sugar was used instead of molasses. This recipe is for two loaves.

2-1/2 cups white flour
4 cups of whole wheat flour
1 cup cold water
1 cup scalded milk
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup molasses or maple syrup
1/3 cup solid shortening, softened
2 packages active yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Dissolve the sugar in the lukewarm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over that mix and let stand for 10 minutes before stirring. Cream the shortening in a large bowl then add the molasses (or syrup), salt and scalded milk. When the shortening is melted from the milk, add and blend in the cold water and the yeast mixture. Now add the whole wheat flour and beat in well. Add the white flour until you get a dough that you can push around (knead). Knead on a floured board or marble until the dough is like elastic. Place in a large greased bowl, cover with cloth and let rise in a warm place until double in size. Punch down and divide in half. Shape the two leaves and put them in greased loaf pans. Cover with cloth again and let rise. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and then bake the loaves until browned. They are ready when you tap the top and hear a hollow sound.

Osage Bread
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon shortening, melted
2 cups of lukewarm milk
Oil or Fat for deep-frying

Combine by sifting the flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Stir in the melted shortening and milk. Knead gently to form the dough into a ball. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured board. Cut into 2-3 inch squares. Meanwhile, heat oil or fat in a deep-fryer until it is 370 degrees. Then fry three or four at a time until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

This bread, as well as many other breads, is delicious dipped in "SOP." Sop is a mixture of corn syrup and bacon drippings.

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The American chestnut tree once flourished in this country. The chestnuts were roasted and eaten plain for the most part. Native women also pounded them into flour and mixed this with cornmeal and a little water. Then they wrap this paste in corn husks and boil it.

Chestnut Cakes

Roast one pound of chestnuts, cool, peel and puree. Add 1/2 small onion chopped fine and enough cornmeal and boiling water to hold the mixture together. Make hamburger size patties and fry in hot oil till golden on each side. Drain, salt and eat! DO NOT add salt before cooking because it causes cornmeal to crumble.

Pinon Cakes
3 cups of raw pinon (pine) nuts
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup melted solid shortening or meat fat, melted

Boil the water, add the nuts and stir. Remove from heat right away. Add the salt and cornmeal and stir all until the batter thickens. Let it stand for an hour. Heat the fat until it is almost smoking. Drop the batter by tablespoons into the fat. Brown each side for about three minutes. Drain and serve hot. Nice with a little fruit jelly on top.

Notes & Tips:

oThere is nothing like freshly baked bread every day. It would be ideal to have an outside oven like many pueblo people have, or to have a bread machine. Most of us just have stove ovens or cast-iron Dutch-ovens. Cast iron makes the best cornbread.

o If making a yeast bread, remember that salt slows down the yeast action, in fact, too much salt can kill the yeast. If you use too little salt, the dough rises too fast and can made the dough coarser.

oThere are many, many types of flours and grains. Most notably Native American are Amaranth, Cornmeal and Quinoa. On the wild side, you can find chestnut flour, acorn flour, other nut blends and oddities at some health food stores.

o Momisms from the files:

"Shut your mouth and eat your supper!"

"If I've told you once, I've told you a million times-don't exaggerate!"

"Will you look at the dirt on the back of your neck?"