Wednesday, January 07, 2015

American Indian Cookbooks

New Mexico and Arizona have several local cuisines of note, including traditional Native American cuisines, the cooking of early Spanish settlers and ranchers, local versions of Mexican foods, and the cooking of famous restaurants in well-known tourist towns like Albuquerque and Santa Fe. I have several cookbooks and food books reflecting these cuisines. In this post, I will talk about some books and articles that relate to Native American foods and cooking.

Two books from my cookbook collection.
Native American cooking in the Southwest today combines several traditions. The book Native Harvests describes how to cook with little-known herbs, vegetables, and game that were familiar to early native peoples, as well as recipes that are popular now with Indians throughout the country.

Navajo frybread may be the best-known Indian food preparation. The Manataka Indian Council website gives at least 10 recipes for frybread from a number of tribes, using either baking powder or yeast. The use of flour, sugar, and lard or other cooking fat (all unknown before European arrival in the Americas) suggests that the inventors of this dish were making use of the rather poor cooking materials that were provided to reservation Indians as they were deprived of many of their native food traditions.

An article in Smithsonian Magazine (2008) summarized the history of frybread thus:
"Navajo frybread originated 144 years ago, when the United States forced Indians living in Arizona to make the 300-mile journey known as the 'Long Walk' and relocate to New Mexico, onto land that couldn't easily support their traditional staples of vegetables and beans. To prevent the indigenous populations from starving, the government gave them canned goods as well as white flour, processed sugar and lard—the makings of frybread."
The Smithsonian article continues with a discussion of the very complex views that Indian people have about frybread. Controversies abound: "frybread links generation with generation and also connects the present to the painful narrative of Native American history."

Many Southwest Indians, Navajos and others, simply enjoy eating frybread. Some view frybread as a delicious element of their mothers' heritage cooking. Some see frybread as a dangerous and highly caloric contributor to diabetes, obesity, and other health problems among their people. Some activists revere frybread "as a symbol of Native pride and unity."

Here are two pages from my cookbooks with the recipes for frybread:

From Indian Recipes, compiled by United Tribes
Educational Technical Center, Bismarck, ND, 1079
From Native Harvests by Barrie Kavasch, 1979.
Two books that have much more information about Indian and Southwest foods.
Why Some Like it Hot by Gary Paul Nabhan describes the co-evolution of native people and the plants in their environment. He documents the harm that's been done by depriving deeply-rooted agricultural people or hunter-gatherers of the foods that their ancestors were accustomed to. This is a much more nuanced analysis than the discussions of frybread. 

Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky offers descriptions of foods from the Southwest and many other regions based on a WPA oral history project in the 1930s. Both of these books provide interesting insight into the history of foods of the Southwest.

Cookbook Wednesday is inspired by
Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations.
Next week: more Southwest cookbooks from my cookbook collection.


~~louise~~ said...

Goodmorning Mae!
You are all linked up Cookbook Wednesday and I for one am thrilled!!!

After all these years, I never realized that you had such a wonderful assortment of cookbooks.

I didn't know the history behind Fry Bread. I'll be checking out that Smithsonian article for sure.

Thank you so much for sharing Mae and thank you for joining us for Cookbook Wednesday!!!

Marjie said...

Your cookbook collection never ceases to amaze me! I like how you have organized them and present them in classifications. These look like interesting cookbooks.