Native American Cuisine
Indigenous peoples in what is now the contiguous United States are commonly called "American Indians", or just "Indians" domestically, but are also often referred to as "Native Americans".
Over the course of thousands of years, a large array of plant species were domesticated, bred and cultivated by the indigenous peoples of the American continent. These species now constitute 50–60% of all crops in cultivation worldwide . In certain cases, the indigenous peoples developed entirely new species and strains through artificial selection, as was the case in the domestication and breeding of maize from wild teosinte grasses in the valleys of southern Mexico. A great number of these agricultural products still retain native names (Nahuatl and others) in the English and Spanish lexicons.
Many crops first domesticated by indigenous Americans are now produced and/or used globally. Largest among these is maize or "corn", arguably the most important crop in the world. Other significant crops include cassava, squash (pumpkins, zucchini, marrow, acorn squash, butternut squash, others), the pinto bean, Phaseolus including most common beans, tepary beans and lima beans were also all first domesticated and cultivated by indigenous peoples in the Americas); the tomato, the potatoes, avocados, peanuts, cocoa beans (used to make chocolate), vanilla, strawberries, pineapples, Peppers (species and varieties of Capsicum, including bell peppers, jalapeños, paprika and chili peppers) sunflower seeds, rubber, brazilwood, chicle, some species of cotton, tobacco, coca. source: wikipedia
Native American Agriculture started about 7,000 years ago in the area of present day Illinois. The first crop the Native Americans grew was squash. This was the first of several crops the Native Americans learned to domesticate. Others included cotton, sunflower, pumpkins, watermelon, tobacco, goosefoot, and sump weed.
The most important crop the Native Americans raised was maize. It was first started in Mesoamerica and spread north. About 2,000 years ago it reached eastern America. This crop was important to the Native Americans because it was part of their everyday diet, it could be stored in underground pits during the winter, and no part of it was wasted. The husk was made into art crafts and the cob was used as fuel for fires. By 800 A.D. the Native Americans had established 3 main crops which were beans, squash, and corn called the three sisters. Agriculture in the southwest started around 4,000 years ago when traders brought cultigens from Mexico. Due to the varying climate, some ingenuity had to be done for agriculture to be successful. The climate in the southwest ranged from cool, moist mountains regions, to dry, sandy soil in the desert. Some innovations of the time included irrigation to bring water into the dry regions, and the selection of seed based on their seed trait. In the southwest, they grew beans that were self-supported, much of the way they are grown today. In the east, however, they were planted right by corn in order for the vein to be able to climb the stalk.
The gender role of the Native Americans, when it came to agriculture, varied from region to region. In the southwest area, men would prepare the soil with hoes. The women were in charge of planting, weeding, and harvesting the crops. In most other regions, the women were in charge of doing everything including clearing the land. Clearing the land was an immense chore since the Native Americans rotated fields frequently. There have been stories about how Squanto showed pilgrims to put fish in fields and this would acts like a fertilizer, but some say this story is not true. They did plant beans next to corn, which the beans would replace the nitrogen the corn took from the ground. They also had controlled fires to burn weeds and this would put nutrients back into the ground. If this did not work they would simply abandon the field and go find a new spot for their field.
Some of the tools the Native Americans used were the hoe, the maul, and the dibber. The hoe was the main tool used to till the land and prepare it for planting and then used for weeding. The first versions were made out of wood and stone. When the settlers brought iron, Native Americans switched to iron hoes and hatches. The dibber was essentially a digging stick, and was used to plant the seed. Once the plants were harvested they were prepared by the women for eating. The maul was used to grind the corn into mash ate that way or made into corn bread. (see types of cornbread)
The Three Sisters
The Three Sisters are the three main agricultural crops of some Native American groups in North America: squash, maize, and climbing beans (typically tepary beans or common beans).
In a technique known as companion planting, the three crops are planted close together. Flat-topped mounds of soil are built for each cluster of crops. Each mound is about 30 cm (1 ft) high and 50 cm (20 in) wide, and several maize seeds are planted close together in the center of each mound. In parts of the Atlantic Northeast, rotten fish or eel are buried in the mound with the maize seeds, to act as additional fertilizer where the soil is poor. When the maize is 15 cm (6 inches) tall, beans and squash are planted around the maize, alternating between beans and squash.
The three crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants utilize and the squash spreads along the ground, monopolizing the sunlight to prevent weeds. The squash leaves act as a "living mulch," creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests.
Squash: Squash was one of the "Three Sisters" planted by Native Americans. The Three Sisters were the three main indigenous plants used for agriculture: maize (corn), beans, and squash. These were usually planted together, with the cornstalk providing support for the climbing beans, and shade for the squash. The squash vines provided ground cover to limit weeds. The beans provided nitrogen fixing for all three crops.
Summer squashes, including young vegetable marrows (such as zucchini [also known as courgette], pattypan and yellow crookneck) are harvested during the growing season, while the skin is still tender and the fruit relatively small, they are consumed almost immediately and require little or no cooking.
Winter squashes (such as butternut, Hubbard, buttercup, ambercup, acorn, spaghetti squash and pumpkin) are harvested at maturity, generally the end of summer, cured to further harden the skin, and stored in a cool place for eating later. They generally require longer cooking time than summer squashes. (Note: Although the term winter squash is used here to differentiate from summer squash, it is also commonly used as a synonym for Cucurbita maxima.)
In addition to the fruit, other parts of the plant are edible. Squash seeds can be eaten directly, ground into paste, or (particularly for pumpkins) pressed for vegetable oil. The shoots, leaves, and tendrils can be eaten as greens. The blossoms are an important part of native American cooking and are also used in many other parts of the world.
Watermelons: Museums Online South Africa list watermelons as having been introduced to North American Indians in the 1500s. Early French explorers found Native Americans cultivating the fruit in the Mississippi Valley. Many sources list the watermelon as being introduced in Massachusetts as early as 1629. Southern food historian John Egerton has said he believes African slaves helped introduce the watermelon to the United States. Texas Agricultural Extension horticulturalist Jerry Parsons, Ph.D., lists African slaves and European colonists as having distributed watermelons to many areas of the world. Parsons also mentions the crop being farmed by Native Americans in Florida (by 1664) and the Colorado River area (by 1799). Other early watermelon sightings include the Midwestern states (1673), Connecticut (1747), and the Illiana region (1822).
Maize: (corn) Perhaps as early as 1500 BCE, maize began to spread widely and rapidly. As it was introduced to new cultures, new uses were developed and new varieties selected to better serve in those preparations. Maize was the staple food, or a major staple, of most the pre-Columbian North American, Mesoamerican, South American, and Caribbean cultures. The Mesoamerican civilization was strengthened upon the field crop of maize; through harvesting it, its religious and spiritual importance and how it impacted their diet. Maize formed the Mesoamerican people’s identity. During the 1st millennium CE (AD), maize cultivation spread from Mexico into the Southwest and a millennium later into Northeast and southeastern Canada, transforming the landscape as Native Americans cleared large forest and grassland areas for the new crop.
Maize can also be prepared as hominy, in which the kernels are bleached with lye; or grits, which are coarsely ground corn. These are commonly eaten in the Southeastern United States, foods handed down from Native Americans. Another common food made from maize is corn flakes. The floury meal of maize (cornmeal or masa) is used to make cornbread and Mexican tortillas. Teosinte is used as fodder, and can also be popped as popcorn.
The maul was used to grind the corn into mash ate that way or made into corn bread.
The Cherokees Indians were farming people. Cherokee women harvested crops of corn, beans, squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, peaches, watermelons,gourds and sunflowers. They also gathered berries, nuts and fruit to eat. Cherokee men hunted white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, wild hogs and small game like squirrel. Fished in the rivers for fish, turtle and crawdads. Cherokee dishes included cornbread, soups, and stews cooked on stone hearths. Crawdads cooked in water. all the species of juglans and acorns, from which they extract a very sweet oil, which enters into all their cooking;
The traditional Cherokee diet consisted of mostly wild meat, especially wild hogs and white-tailed deer, and corn and bean bread, pumpkins, dried fruit, and nuts, which were usually ground into a flour to be used in other dishes.
Around 1739, Cherokee women began growing cotton and flax, and they became expert spinners and weavers.
CHEROKEE BEAN BREAD
2 c. seasoned cooked pinto beans
1 c. liquid from beans
2 c. cornmeal
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 beaten eggs
1/2 c. milk
In a large bowl mix cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Stir in milk, eggs, beans and bean liquid. Pour into greased pan. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes or until done and lightly browned.
Lower Creek Indians (what is now Alabama/ Georgia area). Corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, and melons were grown in abundance just as the Cherokee Indians. The Lower Creeks also grew rice. Hickory nuts and acorns were a source of sustenance. Hunting deer and bear and fishing also supplemented the food supplies. Corn was the most important crop grown, in addition to being a basic food, many of the religious ceremonies of the settlers centered around corn and corn gods. Tobacco, too, was grown for use in ceremonial pipes.