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Traditional Foods for Modern Indians

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Prior to their removal in 1830s, the traditional foods of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in the Mississippi River valley were corn, pumpkin, wild game, beans and fruits. In Oklahoma where the Muscogee people now live, they still plant corn and other foods that were introduced to them in Oklahoma. “Prior to removal, our people ate pork,” says Rita Williams, Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative education and policy coordinator. “They had hogs that ran wild and were probably brought over by the Spaniards. Today, in our Creek homes, we still eat pork.” She says several traditional foods, such as sweet potatoes and sour corn bread, are still part of the cooking tradition of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and include:

Sofke: a drink based on a type of hominy corn. Lye—a juice fermented from the ashes of black jack or post oak—gives this drink its characteristic taste.

Abuske: poached field corn is pounded or ground very fine and mixed with water.

Blue dumplings: masa and warm water, colored with bluing—dried purple-hull pea shells roasted until the hulls are reduced to a blue powder.

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Grape dumplings: wild possum grapes are harvested in the fall, boiled to remove the seeds, and kept in a jar for cooking. When preparing blue dumplings, this juice is boiled again, the dumplings and a little sugar are added, and the mixture is cooked some more.

Svkonepke soup: Sofke corn is ground, boiled and then either pork, chicken, or squirrel meat is added.

Fried pumpkin: Called “Indian pumpkin,” this tan pumpkin is coated with sugar, then cooked over a fire until it caramelizes.

For 10,000 years, Tohono O’odham traditional foods were cultivated, harvested, and hunted in the Sonoran desert. That self-sufficiency ended abruptly in the 20th century, leaving the Tohono O’odham entirely food dependent. The Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), a 15-year-old community-based nonprofit in Arizona, has been working to re-establish Tohono O’odham farming traditions and increase access to healthy native foods in the community. TOCA’s youth group, Young O’odham United Through Health, shares the knowledge of elders with young people and future leaders. TOCA’s “New Generation of O’odham Farmers” program trains native farmers. In 2009, the Desert Rain Café opened and serves at least one traditional food in each item on the menu. TOCA also provides traditional foods for all K-12 students in the school lunch program at the Indian Oasis-Baboquivari Unified School District.

Traditionally cultivated, seasonally harvested and hunted foods include:
• Tepary beans (brown and white)
• O’odham squash
• Cholla buds
• Cacti fruit (prickly pear and saguaro)
• Ground mesquite bean flour
• Acorns
• Hare
• Deer
• Peccary