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Nez Perce woman cooks meals inspired by traditional foods

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By Nick Vogel -- Pekin Daily Times

EAST PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - Theresa Anderson is a grandmother. She lives in Sunnyland and loves to cook buffalo.

''It's just what I do,'' she said. ''It's what I enjoy doing.''

Anderson is Nez Perce, and says she's a direct descendant of Chief Joseph, who led the Nez Perce in the late 1800s.

She became more interested in her heritage as she grew older. As an adult, she joined the Native American Fellowship Day Spring United Methodist Church in East Peoria.

She always loved to cook - mostly gourmet meals.

''Now, buffalo, I hadn't cooked it at all until one of my pastors had given me some from the Seven Circles [Heritage Center]. So I tried it and now it's one of my favorite meats. I love it,'' she said.

Over the last few years, Anderson has been collecting recipes for authentic traditional Native meals. She said tribes ate very healthily.

''Buffalo is the least fatty of meats there is,'' she said.

Anderson, who has heart problems, learned from her doctor that venison and buffalo are very low in cholesterol. ''So it's good for me.''

''A [buffalo or venison] stew is simple to make. You use a lot of garlic. It [covers] the gamy taste,'' Anderson said.

She said that for most recipes, like chili or hamburgers, the cook only needs to substitute buffalo for beef. For buffalo burgers, Anderson suggested mixing in a little ground beef, just to hold everything together.

American Indian food is not all about buffalo and venison, of course.

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Anderson's private collection of recipes calls for wild carrots, sour cherries, wild potatoes and countless other native species of vegetation.

When Anderson was a young girl, she helped her mother prepare squirrel and wild rabbit that her stepfather hunted. ''We just fried it like chicken,'' she said. ''We just chopped it up, dredged it in flour and fried it.''

Her favorite Native dessert is Indian pudding, which she said is not hard to make.

The Seven Circles Heritage Center is an organization in Edwards composed of American Indians who promote traditional Native culture.

In April, the Seven Circles Heritage Center held a wild game feast for 57 of its members. They asked Anderson to be their cook.

''They know I enjoyed cooking and I cooked before for people,'' Anderson said.

Last fall, she cooked venison stew for 450 people at the Seven Circles veterans' pow wow.

For the first-ever wild game feast, Anderson used all of her own recipes. She cooked venison chili and buffalo steaks.

The side dishes were Three Sisters Vegetables, with corn, lima beans and yellow squash, as well as traditional acorn squash.

For dessert, she and her helpers prepared Indian pudding and Navajo peach crisp with pinon nuts from pine trees.

Those in attendance knew they were going to be served buffalo. To cater to those with less adventurous tastes, Anderson cooked salmon and chicken, prepared with traditional American Indian recipes.

Right now, cooking wild game is only a hobby for Anderson. She only cooks for her church, or the Seven Circles Heritage Center. She doesn't have a restaurant.

''But you know what,'' Anderson said, ''I thought about it after the game feast because I had about four or five people come up to me and say, 'You need to open a gourmet restaurant.'''