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Cooking, but not our way

March 2, 2014
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

Despite a spartan life, plains Indians ate a surprisingly varied diet. As some tribes were constantly on the move in pursuit of buffalo, cooking paraphernalia was limited, light weight, and many times made of disposable materials.

The staff of life was of course the buffalo. After a successful hunt women would roast hunks of meat on skewers hung over the flame from tripods. When food was plentiful the tribes ate three meals a day, but they were seldom wasteful. They threw away none of the animal's edible parts, even breaking the bones and boiling the marrow. They also cleaned and shaped the entrails into sausage cases, stuffing them with marrow fat and strips of meat that had been seasoned with wild onions and herbs such as sage.

They also made stew with buffalo meat, cooking it in a traditional cooking pouch. This was made by ting the ends of a buffalo's stomach lining or puce of hide to four poles, then filling it with water and meat and vegetables. To make the water boil the women then dropped hot fist sized stones into the pouch. The cooking pouch lasted for three or four days. When it became soggy and soft from the head, the Indians then disposed of it by eating it.

Variations to the Indian diet helped by hunting and trapping elk, deer, antelope, mountain sheep, quail and jack rabbits. Some ate fish, while others regarded fish as taboo. The desert dwellers caught and roasted snakes and insects. Some planted beans, squash and pumpkins.

While they may gorge themselves at the peak of hunting and harvesting season, they well knew that the months that followed would be lean. Accordingly they preserved buffalo meat by cutting it into thin strips and hanging it to dry. The dried strips known as jerky, which would be pulverized with a stone maul, and the powdered meat was then mixed with ground berries and fat, resulting in a high protein food called pemmican. Not only was it nutritious but it could be stored away in rawhide cases called parfleches, where it would keep for months.

Some tribes stored meat and dried corn, vegetables and fruit in large caches dug into the ground. Such food helped sustain the plains people through the winter months.



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