Thursday, October 28, 2021

Indian Culture

My recent trip on the Lindblad/National Geographic Quest left me very curious about the Native Americans who once lived along the Columbia and Snake Rivers where we traveled, particularly about the many tribes who were encountered by Lewis and Clark during their expedition of 1804-1806. Traders, trappers, and other Europeans had already made contact with the numerous tribes of the region; Lewis and Clark also were responsible for trying to explain to the Indians that they were now part of the United States, to which they were encouraged to become loyal. The expedition also had a mandate to learn about Indian culture, as well as to explore and map the newly acquired Louisiana Territory from St. Louis to the Pacific coast in Oregon. Lewis and Clark in fact did all these things.

“Because Lewis could handle clothing and observe it with his keen naturalist’s eye, he filled his journal with words about moccasins, leggings, shirts, robes, and ornaments. Every piece of clothing, and often its method of construction, was described with his typical attention to detail. But no article in the Shoshoni wardrobe so captivated the explorer as the ermine tippet given to him by Cameahwait. Lewis described it as ‘the most eligant peice of Indian dress I ever saw.’”

Thus wrote James P. Ronda in Lewis & Clark among the Indians. Yesterday, I wrote about some of the food observations in this book, and now I would like to introduce some of the other examples of material culture that the author describes. First, some examples of ermine head coverings.

Our speaker, JR Spenser from the Nez Perce tribe, wore a traditional headdress
and beaded vest for his excellent talk to the guests onboard the Quest.

In the museum at the Nez Perce reservation, we saw a
similar hat.

Onboard the Sea Bird two years ago we enjoyed several lectures by the Cultural Specialist Owen B Walker. 
For his lecture on the First Nations and their fishing methods, he wore a traditional hat including ermine fur.
Lewis and Clark and the other members of the expedition were very enthusiastic about these woven hats,
made by the Puget Sound tribes and also made by the native people further south where we were.

More images from the museum in The Nez Perce National Historic Park near Lewiston, Idaho.

Beaded cradle board.

Not far from the museum: the site of an amusing legend about the trickster coyote and two other beasts:
an ant and a yellow-jacket, who fought at the site of the arch in the photo, and ended up turned to stone.

A mural in The Dalles, Oregon, a location important to the tribes visited by Lewis and Clark.

Who was Sacagawea?

Very little about Sacagawea was said in Ronda’s book. In a note at the end, he explains that while this very famous woman contributed to the success of the expedition, her role has been mythologized and greatly exaggerated. The story is irresistible: of how she was kidnapped from her tribe and became the property and wife of Charbonneau, a French trapper and interpreter, and how she then accompanied Lewis and Clark while her infant son Jean Baptiste rode on her back. Several fictionalized versions of her life also stated that she lived a very long time, while she actually died at about the age of 25, not long after the expedition. Ronda writes:
“Perhaps the most persistent Lewis and Clark myth is that Sacagawea ‘guided’ the party to the Pacific. In countless statues, poems, paintings, and books she is depicted as a westward-pointing pathfinder providing invaluable direction for bewildered explorers. In the interest of correction, there has been a tendency to underestimate Sacagawea’s genuine achievements as a member of the Corps of Discovery. Not as important as George Drouillard or John Ordway, the young woman did make significant contributions to the expedition’s success.”

One of many statues of Sacagawea.

Another statue, at Fort Clatsop historic park on
the site where Lewis and Clark spent the last winter of their expedition.

Beautiful Places

Blog post and photos © 2019, 2021 mae sander.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Corn, Beans, Squash, and Sunflowers

George Catlin, “Mandan Village.” 1833 (Wikipedia)

Autumn is here. As we celebrate our two American festivals, Halloween and Thanksgiving, several symbolic foods appear over and over, especially corn and pumpkins (which are a type of squash). These are both essential foods that Native Americans grew, along with another native food plant, the sunflower. and various others that are now obscure. Of course salmon in the Pacific region, wild game of all types, and other fish throughout the continent were also key foods, but the produce was the basic element of the native diet. Another Halloween food, chocolate, also originated in the New World, but was only cultivated and consumed in Mexico and other warmer climates.

Lewis and Clark among the Indians by James P. Ronda is a study of the experiences of the famous expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark from 1804-1806. On our recent trip on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, we passed by many of the same places that the expedition records described, though the river is much changed now, mainly by the many dams that have been built. One of our lecturers told us that one thing that was always true of the Lewis and Clark explorers was that they were hungry! The following quotations illustrate how constantly trade for food was essential to Lewis and Clark and the members of their expedition, and how the local natives at every location along the Missouri and  Columbia Rivers cultivated the same basic crops:

 “Earth lodges, fortifications, and extensive fields of corn, beans, and squash were all signs of the culture of the Missouri Valley villagers.”

“Welcomed into Pocasse’s lodge, the Americans sat on woven mats and were served by the chief’s wife. They were brought a bowl of beans and corn, the staple of Arikara fare.” 

“For the Sioux, corn was more important than blood.”

“At that market one could find Spanish horses and mules brought by the Cheyennes, destined for Assiniboin herds; fancy Cheyenne leather clothing for Mandan dandies; English trade guns and ammunition eagerly sought by villagers and nomads alike; and the ever present baskets of corn, beans, squash, and tobacco upon which Mandan and Hidatsa economic strength was built.” 

“Lewis and Clark were not the first white men to see the Mandan and Hidatsa villages and their surrounding fields of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers.”

“The Mandan diet of beans, corn, squash, and meat appealed to him [Ordway, a diarist of the expedition], and in his simple style he reported that the Indians ‘live very well.’ Methods of storing food also attracted his attention. Villagers had long constructed elaborate underground bell-shaped food caches to preserve corn, beans, sunflower seeds, and dried squash over the winter.”

“Throughout the afternoon the expedition’s camp was filled with Indians eager to exchange corn and cornmeal bread for a variety of trade goods.”

Corn and pumpkins for Halloween: these foods are still 
key to agriculture, though maybe not as critical as in the past.

American families have their own traditions for Thanksgiving: many Thanksgiving dinners end with pumpkin pie. Another tradition: the mid-20th-century recipe for Jiffy corn pudding usually repeating the identical recipe that originated as an advertising brochure from the Jiffy company in Chelsea, MI. We associate these foods with the New England settlers and the “first Thanksgiving” but in fact they were essential to Native Americans across the entire continent, all the way to the Pacific Ocean where Lewis and Clark reached the farthest extent of their voyage. 

Paul Kane, “Interior of a Chinook Lodge,” 1847.
Illustration from Ronda’s book.

NOTE: I’ve written in the past about the history of Thanksgiving:
and the way that Old World traditions were adapted into American Halloween customs:

Blog post © 2021 mae sander. Illustrations as credited.

Monday, October 25, 2021


Every October our neighborhood is filled with pumpkins, ghosts, haunted houses, covens of witches, pretend grave-stones, giant inflatable spiders, and many more Halloween-themed gardens and elaborately garnished houses. I’ve posted photos of these wonderful and imaginative decorations before, and many of the neighbors reuse and expand the same tableaux every year. Next door to us, there’s a new, simple and delightful yard scene:

I’m thinking a lot about pumpkins, thanks to all the nearby displays, but I’m thinking about pumpkins as food! My own favorite pumpkin dishes are pumpkin soup, pumpkin stew, and pumpkin sautés, all with savory spices and usually lots of onion and peppers. I posted my pumpkin lasagne recipe a few years ago:

My choice is always for fresh pumpkin with some of the crisp texture preserved: never canned purée! Sweetened pumpkin dishes flavored with the traditional “pumpkin pie spice,” such as pumpkin pie, turnovers, muffins, and cheesecake don’t appeal to me as much. Least of all do I like sweet pumpkin beverages. The less said about Starbucks, the better.

Pumpkin Juice

I do want to mention Harry Potter, though, and the amusing beverage pumpkin juice that was served at Hogwarts. Another clever twist in these most-imaginative books. Obviously, witches want pumpkin. (Obviously? Well, yes.)

The Hogwarts Dining Hall.
Did pumpkin juice even exist before Hogwarts? Surely not very much. I find the idea quite unpalatable, though the many recipes on offer web-wise add lots of sweeteners like brown sugar, other fruit flavors, and a hefty dose of  “the spice” to balance out the actual pumpkin taste. I suspect the young witches were drinking straight pumpkin juice: they are different from you and especially me.

Boozy Pumpkins?

“11 Pumpkin Cocktails to Try Right Now” by Naren Young”—  — recently appeared on a website about all things liquor. I’m not much of a cocktail drinker (I have had one cocktail in approximately the last two years) but I find this to be a very entertaining article. It mentions a Sazerac, a Flip, a Buck, a Toddy, a Nog, a Margarita, a Ramos Gin Fizz, a Piña Colada, a Whiskey Sour, a Gimlet, and an Old Fashioned made with pumpkin, as well as a few others. I do like cocktail names!

Naren Young’s  Pumpkin Punch, served in little pumpkins.
Contents: "bourbon and ginger liqueur with apple,
lemon and pineapple juices, pumpkin puree and a fall spice syrup."
Maybe this is what the house elves concocted for the Hogwarts’ faculty.

Whatever you drink for Halloween, I hope you will have a great holiday! I still haven’t decided if I will invite the trick-or-treaters this year. It’s still a little risky, I think, though I’d love to see the costumes.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander, photos as credited.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

A Football Game In Ann Arbor

We walked past the Michigan Stadium — “the Big House” — just as the 100,000 spectators were
taking their seats and the kickoff was about to happen. Just sightseeing! We live around a mile from
the stadium. Michigan did win today: it’s been a good season so far. That’s Evelyn with her camera.

The tracks run quite close to the stadium. 100 years ago, there were trains from Detroit to
bring fans to the games, but that hasn’t been the case for a long long time. Now everyone
drives. We saw lots of parked cars and a few people winding up their tail gate picnics. 
As the game was beginning, we walked back home. Not really sports fans.


Friday, October 22, 2021

Dormitory Food: A Guest Post By Alice


In August I started my first year at the University of Virginia and I have been reflecting on all of the eats of the past weeks. College has been amazing so far and the food has been especially a high point. At UVA, first years get unlimited access to the three dining halls along with many restaurants on grounds to eat at. 

A Banh Mi Sandwich


I most often eat at the O’Hill dining hall, only a three minute walk from my dorm, and love staying there to study and chat with friends. For breakfast I usually get eggs, sausage, some form of potatoes, and a pastry, pancakes, or french toast. For lunch and dinner, I pick out my meal based on whichever station looks the best or has the shortest line. There is pizza, burgers and fries, the salad bar, sandwiches, and two to three different rotating meals. Additionally, there is a dessert bar that has cookies and sweets at all times of day as well as a self-serve soft serve station. I am still practicing up on my ice cream skills, thus my ice cream still looks a little funny when I get it. 

The main area of the dining hall with all the different stations.

Breakfast at O’Hill

Dinners and Lunches at O’Hill

I study while I eat. 

From the vegan station.

National Guacamole Day.

Yogurt station with fruit and granola.


In addition to the dining halls, my friends and I go out to eat on The Corner almost every weekend. Our favorite restaurants have been Asado’s, Mellow Mushroom, and Got Dumplings. We also go to a smoothie shop, called Juice Laundry, that is inside of the gym.


Restaurant Photos

Dome Dinner

Every year each first year residence hall is invited to a fancy dinner in the dome of the Rotunda. Ours was spectacular- strawberry feta spinach salad, rolls, pasta, couscous, flank steak, green beans, and a fruit crisp dessert. 

Dome Dinner Photos

The Rotunda at the University of Virginia. Designed by Thomas Jefferson.

At dinner: wine glasses with sweet iced tea or water.

Questionable Food Experiences

Although the food has been great at UVA, there have been a few dinners that were a bit weird. Most notable were the tofu pasta and the bean sauce on pasta. 

Pasta Photos

The outdoor dining and study area.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander and alice wanner.
All photos by alice wanner.