The Bread of a Tribe

Every nation in Indian Country has their own recipe for bread—many are a variation of cornbread.

While breads are often geographically identified, the different types of bread are generally shared by all. Here in the Northeast, we love our johnnycakes and nut breads, wild rice bread, appones and pumpkin bread. The Southeast commonly uses hominy, sweet potatoes, and many other combinations. Bannock shines in the Plains, as tortillas of every shape and size rule in the Southwest, as does Buckskin bread in the Northwest.

Before there were refined wheat or whole wheat flours, Native women were more than proficient in producing flours from such things as cattails, acorns, beans, amaranth, chestnuts, quinoa, wild rice along with other organic plants. The process from plant to flour, in most cases, is very labor intensive. Today, you can find many unique flours from ancient grains and nuts in health food stores. I have purchased chestnut, quinoa and wild rice flours, finding very subtle differences. All are very fine and almost powder-like.

I’m not a fan of yeast; I've just never had much luck using it. Our ancestors never had yeast. Batter-quick breads suit me best, as they are easy to assemble and amiable to last-minute inspired additions. Chopped dried fruit, nuts of any kind, herbs, spices, even vegetables like squash and tomatoes are great in bread. Another type of Native bread I really like and find super useful is tortillas. As wraps and tacos, they are perfect food holders.

Buckskin Bread

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, grease or spray an 8-inch cast iron skillet or pie plate. If using the cast iron skillet only, put it in the oven while it preheats, greased but not filled.

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup water

Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and blend or whisk the water in quickly. Remove pre-heated skillet from oven very carefully and put dough in, press down a little to make it even, or, put dough in pie pan and also press down to make even. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool some and serve warm.

Sweet Potato Bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease or spray a large baking sheet

6 sweet potatoes

3 tablespoons light brown sugar (or substitute equivalent)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons softened butter

Peel and boil sweet potatoes until soft, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool some and mash until smooth, add butter, cinnamon and sugar, blend well. Add the flour to help the mixture hold together while you make it into large patties. Put the patties on the baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes.

Note: Sweet potatoes keep very well, almost a month after purchase, as long as they are kept cool and not refrigerated. 45-55 degrees is best to store them dry. Do not peel until you’re ready to cook them. They contain beta-carotene and vitamins C and E.

Nut Bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

1 cup whole milk or water

1 cup honey

½ cup sugar (or substitute)

¼ cup softened butter

2 egg yolks

2-1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup crushed nuts (walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts)

Put honey, milk or water in a saucepan and scald (bring almost to a boil). Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. Cool, then beat in butter and egg yolks. Add dry ingredients, beat well and add nuts. Put into the loaf pan and bake one hour. Cool on a rack.

Flour Tortillas

2 cups of flour

¼ cup lard

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup lukewarm water

Mix flour and salt together in a large 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 ten balls, pat them flat, stretch them and, if you have a rolling pin use it to make them really, really flat, then do it. Get a griddle or frying pan very hot and drop the tortillas one side at a time until it looks spotty or freckled, flip to do other side. Serve warm immediately, or store for later use.

Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.