How Will You Get The Food For Your Family When Supermarkets Aren’t an Option Anymore – Learn From The Native Americans
How did Native Americans get food for their families in the days before supermarkets?
There were four basic ways for people in ancient societies to find food: hunting and fishing, gathering, farming, and raising domesticated animals. Native Americans did all these things, but the first three were much more common. There were not many domesticated animals in North America before Europeans arrived– only turkeys, ducks, and dogs, and most tribes did not eat dog meat (although some did.) In South America, llamas and guinea pigs were also raised by some tribes for their meat.
The other three food sources were much more important to Native American life. Most tribes used two or three of these food-gathering techniques at once to get a varied diet. Every American Indian tribe that we know of took part in hunting and fishing to get fresh meat to eat. The Inuit (Eskimos) and some Indian tribes of the far north relied almost entirely on hunting and fishing to survive.
Some Native Americans were primarily big game hunters, migrating frequently to follow herds of bison or caribou. The Blackfoot and Sioux are two examples of big game hunting tribes. In tribes like these, large groups of Native Americans usually worked together to drive large animals into an ambush, a man-made pit, or over a cliff, sometimes setting controlled fires or building fences to cut off their escape. In other tribes, such as the Chippewa or Creek, each individual Native American hunter would stalk deer, rabbits or other game, or set snares or traps for them. In fishing tribes, Native American fishermen would either catch fish and hunt marine mammals from their canoes, or else set fish nets and wooden traps for them. The Tlingit and Salish are two examples of Northwest Indian tribes who got most of their meat through fishing. Native hunting and fishing weapons varied from tribe to tribe but the most common ones were bows and arrows, spears, harpoons, fish-hooks, and blowguns.
Farming was another very important source of American Indian food materials. Native agriculture was most advanced in what is now the southern United States, Mexico, and the Andean region of South America. Native Americans from those areas used special farming techniques like irrigation, terracing, crop rotation, and planting windbreaks to improve their farms, and they usually harvested enough crops to dry and store for the winter. Some examples of southern Native American tribes who were expert farmers included the Hopi, Navajo, and Cherokee tribes. Other tribes further to the north planted crops in garden plots in their villages but did not harvest enough to last the winter, so they would split up into hunting camps during that time instead. Examples of northern tribes who farmed this way included the Lenape and Iroquois tribes. Besides food crops, Native American farmers often grew cotton, hemp, tobacco, and medicinal plants.
Gathering is a general term for collecting food that grows wild in the environment. Sometimes this is a very basic sort of task, such as picking blueberries from a bush. Other times gathering can be complicated and requires special tools and training, such as tapping trees for maple syrup or grinding and leaching acorns into edible flour. The kinds of wild foods gathered by an Indian tribe and the tools they needed to do it with varied a lot depending on where the tribe lived. Usually Native Americans gathered wild foods in addition to hunting, fishing, or farming.
What were some typical Native American foods?
The most important Native American food crop was Indian corn (also known as maize, which comes from the Taino Indian name for the plant.) The majority of American Indian tribes grew at least some corn, and even tribes that did not grow corn themselves often traded with neighbors for it. Other important American Indian crops included beans, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, wild rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, avocados, papayas, and chocolate.
Whether they were farming tribes or not, most Native American tribes had very meat-heavy diets. Favorite meats included buffalo, elk, caribou, deer, and rabbit; salmon and other fish; ducks, geese, turkeys and other birds; clams and other shellfish; and marine mammals like seals or even whales. But almost any animal who lived in the Americas in ancient times was sometimes added to the menu, even animals you might not think of as food like porcupines, monkeys, or snakes. Many Native American tribes had strong beliefs against wasting food, so if they killed an animal for any other reason, they would often try to eat it.
Other foods that could be found naturally in the Americas and were often eaten by American Indians included eggs, honey, maple syrup and sugar, salt, nuts (including peanuts, pine nuts, cashews, hickory nuts, and acorns,) fruit (including cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, chokecherries, wild plums, and persimmons), and a wide variety of beans, roots, and greens.
What were Native American meals like?
Native American cooking tended to be simple. Most Native Americans preferred to eat their food very fresh, without many spices. This was different in Mexico and Central America, where Indians tended to use less fresh meat and more spices in their dishes, including hot peppers, cumin, and chocolate seasonings. Meat was usually roasted over the fire or grilled on hot stones. Fish was often baked or smoked. Soups and stews were popular in some tribes. Corn was eaten in many different ways, including corn-on-the-cob, popcorn, hominy, and tortillas and corn bread baked in clay ovens. Indians in some tribes enjoyed fruit puddings or maple candy for dessert. Most Native Americans always drank water with their meals, but hot chocolate was a popular beverage in Mexico, and some Indians in Central and South America developed an alcoholic corn drink called chicha.(source)
How did Native American eating habits change after Europeans arrived?
The Europeans introduced some new plants and animals that didn’t exist in the Americas originally, such as bananas, wheat, sheep, and cows. Some Native American farming tribes, such as the Navajos or the Mexican Indian tribes, began to raise these new crops and farm animals in addition to corn and other traditional crops. Many people in those tribes are still farmers today, and they have been raising some of these “new” foods for centuries now!
Other tribes were forced to change their traditional lifestyles a lot after Europeans took over. Since Europeans killed most of the buffalo, tribes that used to follow the buffalo herds had to find new ways of living. Today, some tribes raise buffalo on ranches. Many forests and jungles have been cleared, which makes it harder to earn a living by hunting. In rural areas of Canada, Alaska, and South America, some Native Americans and Inuit (Eskimos) still make their living by hunting and trapping, but this is becoming rarer. And of course, one of the biggest changes was Indian tribes being forced to move to reservations far from their original homelands. In many cases, these tribes had to give up their old ways of life in their new location because the environment was different and the land was not suitable for their traditional agriculture.
Some traditional American Indian foods and recipes are still enjoyed by Native American people today. However, except for a few remote rainforest tribes, Native American people also eat modern food, just like their non-native neighbors do.
What are some Native American recipes I could make for school?
This is harder than it sounds. Most traditional Native American recipes from North America included fresh meat or fish, which isn’t easy to share with your class. Here is a good recipe for wild rice and cranberries, a dish of the Northeast Woodland tribes. Here is a general American Indian recipe for corn cakes and another for blueberry wojapi, which is a kind of Sioux fruit pudding. They taste good together! You could also make tamales, which are a popular Mexican food of Aztec origin, or fry-bread, which is a contemporary Native American treat that you can commonly find at powwows. (Wojapi tastes great on frybread, too.)
One of the most common questions that we get is “What did American Indians eat?” Of course, the answer to this question varies from tribe to tribe– as you might be able to guess, Athabaskan Indians in Alaska had a very different diet from Brazilian tribes in the Amazon rainforest!
Some Native American tribes were also much more agricultural, staying in one place year-round and farming the land, while other tribes were semi-nomadic, moving frequently from place to place as they hunted and gathered food for their families. This also affected what kinds of food they ate.
Here is a general overview of some of the American Indian food sources and food gathering techniques the people developed over the years to fit these needs.
If those things are all too complicated, you can make a nice salad out of traditional Native American ingredients, like succotash or a bean salad or a native fruit salad.
Many fruits are available in this region. Muscadines, blackberries, raspberries, and many other wild berries were part of Southern Native Americans’ diet.
“ To a far greater degree than anyone realizes, several of the most important food dishes of the Southeastern Indians live on today in the “soul food” eaten by both black and white Southerners. Hominy, for example, is still eaten … Sofkee live on as grits … cornbread [is] used by Southern cooks … Indian fritters … variously known as “hoe cake”, … or “Johnny cake.” … Indians boiled cornbread is present in Southern cuisine as “corn meal dumplings”, … and as “hush puppies”, … Southerns cook their beans and field peas by boiling them, as did the Indians … like the Indians they cure their meat and smoke it over hickory coals. ” - Charles Hudson, The Southeastern Indians
Southeastern Native Americans also supplemented their diets with meats derived from the hunting of native game. Venison was an important meat staple, due to the abundance of white-tailed deer in the area. They also hunted rabbits, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons. Livestock, adopted from Europeans, in the form of hogs and cattle, were kept. Aside from the meat, it was not uncommon for them to eat organ meats such as liver, brains, and intestines. This tradition remains today in hallmark dishes like chitterlings, commonly called chitlins, which are the fried large intestines of hogs; livermush, a common dish in the Carolinas made from hog liver; and pork brains and eggs. The fat of the animals, particularly of hogs, was rendered and used for cooking and frying. Many of the early settlers were taught Southeastern Native American cooking methods.
In the Northwest of what is now the United States, Native Americans used salmon and other fish, seafood, mushrooms, berries, and meats such as deer, duck, and rabbit. Rum was popular, having first been introduced to the Western Hemisphere by Christopher Columbus. In contrast to the Easterners, the Northwestern aboriginal peoples were principally hunter-gatherers. The generally mild climate meant they did not need to develop an economy based upon agriculture but instead could rely year-round on the abundant food supplies of their region. In what is now California, acorns were ground into a flour that was the principal food stuff for about seventy-five percent of the population, and dried meats were prepared during the season when drying was possible.
- Acorn bread
- Acorn mush, from the Miwok people
- Akutaq, also called “Eskimo ice cream”, made from caribou or moose tallow and meat, berries, seal oil, and sometimes fish, whipped together with snow or water
- Bean bread, made with corn meal and beans, popular among the Cherokee
- Bird brain stew, from the Cree nation
- Black drink or asi, a Southeastern ceremonial drink made from the yaupon holly
- Buffalo stew, from the Lakota and Cherokee people, also called tanka-me-a-lo
- Chinook olives, a type of cured acorn eaten by the aboriginal people of the Columbia River Valley
- Cornbread and corn pone—the word pone derives from the word for ‘bread’ in some Eastern Algonquian languages, such as Powhatan apon and Lenape ahpòn
- Dried meats like jerky and smoked salmon strips
- Filé powder, made from sassafras leaves, used by the Choctaw for flavoring and thickening soups and stews as well as for herbal medicine
- Frybread, a dish made from ingredients distributed to Native Americans living on reservations and also from ell
- Green chili stew
- Hopi tea, an herbal tea made from Thelesperma megapotamicum
- Indian ice cream (Alaska) from the Alaskan Athabaskans and Indian ice cream (Canada) from the First Nations in British Columbia
- Mutton stew, from the Navajo people
- Nokake, Algonquian hoecakes, made of cornmeal
- Pemmican, a concentrated food consisting of dried pulverized meat, dried berries, and rendered fat
- Piki bread, from the Hopi people
- Psindamoakan, a Lenape hunter’s food made of parched cornmeal mixed with maple sugar
- Pueblo bread
- Salted salmon, an Inuit dish of brined salmon in a heavy concentration of salt water, left for months to soak up salts
- Sapan (pronounced [ˈsaːpːʌn]), cornmeal mush, a staple of Lenape cuisine
- Stink fish, an Inuit dish of dried fish, kept underground until ripe, for later consumption; also done with fish heads
- Succotash, a dish of beans and corn
- Tiswin, a term used for several fermented beverages in the Southwest, including a corn or fruit beer of the Apache and a saguaro fruit beer of the Tohono O’odham
- Walrus flipper soup, an Inuit dish made from walrus flippers
- Wojape, a Plains Indian pudding of mashed, cooked berries.
Native American cuisine of the Circum-Caribbean
This region comprises the cultures of the Arawaks, the Caribs, and the Ciboney. The Taíno of the Greater Antilles were the firstNew World people to encounter Columbus. Prior to European contact, these groups foraged, hunted, and fished. The Taíno cultivated cassava, sweet potato, maize, beans, squash, pineapple, peanut, and peppers. Today these groups have mostly vanished, but their culinary legacy lives on.
- Ajiaco, same as pepperpot, a soup believed to have originated in Cuba before Columbia’s arivel. The soup mixes a variety of meats, tubers, and peppers.
- Barbacoa, the origin of the English word barbecue, a method of slow-grilling meat over a fire pit;
- Jerk, a style of cooking meat that originated with the Taíno of Jamaica. Meat was applied with a dry rub of allspice, Scotch bonnet pepper, and perhaps additional spices, before being smoked over fire or wood charcoal.
- Casabe, a crispy, thin flatbread made from cassava root widespread in the Pre-Columbian Caribbean and Amazonia;
- Bammy, a Jamaican bread made from cassava and water; Today this bread is fried and made with coconut milk.
- Guanime, a Puerto Rican food similar to the tamale; made with cornmeal or cornmeal and mashed cassave together.
- Pasteles, this dish may have also been called guanime and originated from Puerto Rico. Pasteles were once made with cassava and taro mashed into a masaonto a taro leaf. They are then stuffed with meat and wrapped.
- Funche or fungi, a cornmeal mush;
- Cassareep, a sauce, condiment, or thickening agent made by boiling down the extracted juices of bitter cassava root;
- Mama Juana, a tea made in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti).
- Pepperpot, a spicy stew of Taíno origin based on meat, vegetables, chili peppers, and boiled-down cassava juice, with a legacy stretching from Cuba, Colombiacoast and to Guyana;
- Bush teas, popular as herbal remedies in the Virgin Islands and other parts of the Caribbean, often derived from indigenous sources, such as ginger thomas,soursop, inflammation bush, kenip, wormgrass, worry wine, and many other leaves, barks, and herbs;
- Ouicou, a fermented, cassava-based beer brewed by the Caribs of the Lesser Antilles;
- Taumali or taumalin, a Carib sauce made from the green liver meat of lobsters, chile pepper, and lime juice.
- Grilled guinea pig, a native to most of the Andes region, this small rodent has been cultivated for at least 4000 years.
- Fried green tomatoes, a nightshade relative native to Peru;
- Saraiaka, a corn liquor;
- Chicha, a generic name for any number of indigenous beers found in South America. Though chichas made from various types of corn are the most common in the Andes, chicha in the Amazon Basin frequently use manioc. Variations found throughout the continent can be based on amaranth, quinoa, peanut, potato, coca, and many other ingredients.
- Chicha morada, a Peruvian, sweet, unfermented drink made from purple corn, fruits, and spices;
- Colada morada, a thickened, spiced fruit drink based on the Andean blackberry, traditional to the Day of the Deadceremonies held in Ecuador, it is typically served with guagua de pan, a bread shaped like a swaddled infant (formerly made from cornmeal in Pre-Columbian times), though other shapes can be found in various regions.
- Quinoa porridge;
- Ch’arki, a type of dried meat;
- Humitas, similar to modern-day Tamales, a thick mixture of corn, herbs and onion, cooked in a corn-leaf wrapping. The name is modern, meaning bow-tie, because of the shape in which it’s wrapped.
- Locro (from the Quechua ruqru) is a hearty thick stew popular along the Andes mountain range. It one of the national dishes of Argentina, Bolivia and Peru.
- Mate de coca;
- Pachamanca, stew cooked in a hautía oven;
- Papa a la Huancaína, Peruvian potatoes covered in a spicy, creamy sauce called Huancaína sauce.
- Pataska, spicy stew made from boiled maize, potatoes, and dried meat;
- Ceviche, marinated in acidic tumbo juice in Pre-Columbian times;
- Cancha or tostada, fried golden hominy;
- Llajwa, salsa of Bolivia;
- Llapingachos, mashed-potato cakes from Ecuador;
- Tocosh (Togosh), a traditional Quechua food prepared from fermented potato pulp.
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