Native American Food

The smell of nuts and roasted maize? Wow, it’s Native American food. An appetizing meal of deer meat and wild rice along with fresh salads. There are more to add to the flavor, corn, squash, beans, berries and pumpkins. An endless list of mouth watering American native food. Just too much to resist the temptation. Just smell the names. Don’t they seem fresh and natural? Yes, they do and this is why American native foods are so special and palatable.

The predominance of corn is quite customary in case of American Indian foods. Apart from corn, the natives also make use of what is known as Harinilla or Blue Corn. Meal Harinilla was in most cases ground into flour and utilized for baking tortillas and other starches. Meat of deer was the hot favorite of these Indian American people. Nevertheless, they were also quite excited about rabbits, prairie dog, beaver, lamb, buffalo, mutton, and pork. Are your eyes sparkling and your hearts craving to taste a bit of these exotic delicacies? Quite natural, it should sound appetizing to you.

Where do we usually see a cactus? In deserts of course. But cactus being a part of a traditional diet indeed sounds quite unusual. However, it really did help in making a palatable dish along with wild grains, sage and cabbage. But have you ever heard of a diet comprising herbs? Yes, the Native Americans did have herbal diets because most of the earliest forms of medicines were derivatives of herbal food sources. The herbal plants used by the natives were mostly Peppermint, Spearmint, Clover, Sage, and Rosehips and these were used for making teas and other foods.

The Native Americans were renowned for their variety of food items. Pineapples, avocados, chocolate, chilies, tomatoes, and peanuts – Wow! Don’t they sound Yummy? Native Americans were always passionate about growing wild and domesticated plants. Their experiment with nature resulted in some wonderful and exquisite food varieties. From New York to Ohio River valley, the native inhabitants gathered a wide collection of fruits (grapes, plums, thorn apples, bearberries, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, elderberries, sumac berries) and nuts (acorns, butternuts, hickory nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, and beechnuts). 

Moreover, the Iroquois ceremonial cycle included a special festive event known as strawberry festival. This festival was held to commemorate and celebrate the growth of small, new and wild strawberries, which indicated the arrival of the spring season. In contemporary times too, the juice of strawberries are drunk with great pleasure in most Iroquois communities.
                                                         
Seeds, too formed an integral part of Native American diet. Seeds were mainly preferred for their exceptional nutritive value. In the nineteenth century, the group of Native Americans enjoyed themselves while collecting the first shoots of dandelions, milkweed, pokeweed, lamb's quarters, mustard, dock, and watercress. These were parboiled and then cooked with meats and spices. Squashes and gourds (Cucurbita pepo) were mainly grown in the Southwest region of the land. Tepary beans were being extensively cultivated as an essential source of protein.

Fish too formed an important part of the Native American diet. Salmon, halibut fillets, lobsters, clams and mussels were the preferred choices of the natives. The Indian American occupants ate deer, wild geese, gar, crabs, bass and squid.

Sources of fat were innumerable. It was primarily used for seasoning and to impart some texture to the food. Fats were obtained from bears, rich hump meat of buffalo, whales and seals of the northwest coast.

Nature always supplies in abundance. However, you have to decide how to make use of the profusion in the rightful way. The Indian American dwellers too had a perfect sense of growing edible crops and plants. Especially those living in the northwest part of North America indulged in the cultivation of sunflowers in association with their tubers known as Jerusalem artichokes. They also grew sumpweed, goosefoot , maygrass and giant ragweed.

A diet cannot be complete without a sugary touch. Therefore, to make food sweet the American Indians made use of wild honey, dried and fresh fruits and maple.

Food is a sign of a particular culture and age. What you produce, the way you cook and the manner by which you serve your food reflects your taste and ethnicity. When judged from this perspective, Native American food deserves special mention.

Joseph Paige 2006

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