Windham Life and Times – November 22, 2019


A Tribute to Native American Foods


James Adair, published a book in 1775 about the eastern Native Americans. In it he describes their cooking: “It is surprising the great variety of dishes they can make out of wild flesh, corn, beans, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, dried fruits, herbs and roots. They can diversify their courses, as much as the English, or perhaps French cooks: and either of the ways they dress their food, it is grateful to a wholesome stomach.”

Of course, Thanksgiving, is all about a slightly ugly and strange bird, the turkey. “Before Europeans first colonized New England in the 17th century, an estimated 10 million wild turkeys stretched from southern Maine to Florida to the Rocky Mountains…By the mid-1850s, New England turkeys had all but disappeared. Today, New England is again, overrun by turkeys. “Massachusetts captured 37 wild turkeys from New York’s Adirondacks in the 1970s and released them in the Berkshires. Vermont relocated 31 New York turkeys in the mid-1960s, and Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire participated in similar programs… ‘Their population has just exploded, quite literally,’ Bernie says. Today, the wild turkey population in Massachusetts exceeds 25,000 birds. There are 45,000 wild turkeys in Vermont, 40,000 in New Hampshire, and almost 60,000 in Maine— almost all of which descended from those few dozen relocated birds…” Are thousands of turkeys roaming suburban neighborhood a good or bad thing? I guess you would have to ask a new BMW owner who has had his finish pecked of by a turkey thinking his reflection was another bird. I hear they do eat ticks!


    “The three sisters (corn, beans, and squash) were the major staples of Native American agriculture, and were always grown together. Corn was the most important staple food grown by Native Americans, but corn stalks also provided a pole for beans to climb and the shade from the corn benefited squash that grew under the leaves. The beans, as with all legumes, provided nitrogen for the corn and squash. Finally, the shade from large squash and pumpkin leaves held moisture in the ground for all three plants. Although other plants such as potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers were cultivated, the three sisters gardens were the backbone of North American Indian agriculture and provided the primary dietary staples of many tribes, and horticulture remains an important part of modern Native American life.” “Squash is one of several plants with a name that comes from a Native American language– “squash” is an abbreviated form of askutasquash, the word for squash in the Narragansett language.”


“A long time ago there were three sisters who lived together in a field. These sisters were quite different from one another in their size and way of dressing. The little sister was so young that she could only crawl at first, and she was dressed in green.”

“The second sister wore a bright yellow dress, and she had a way of running off by herself when the sun shone and the soft wind blew in her face.”

“The third was the eldest sister, standing always very straight and tall above the other sisters and trying to protect them. She wore a pale green shawl, and she had long, yellow hair that tossed about her head in the breeze.”

“There was one way the sisters were all alike, though. They loved each other dearly, and they always stayed together. This made them very strong.”

“One day a stranger came to the field of the Three Sisters – a Mohawk boy. He talked to the birds and other animals – this caught the attention of the three sisters.”

“Late that summer, the youngest and smallest sister disappeared. Her sisters were sad.”

“Again the Mohawk boy came to the field to gather reeds at the water’s edge. The two sisters who were left watched his moccasin trail, and that night the second sister – the one in the yellow dress – disappeared as well.”

“Now the Elder Sister was the only one left. She continued to stand tall in her field. When the Mohawk boy saw that she missed her sisters, he brought them all back together and they became stronger together, again.”


As you have heard endlessly over the past year, it was the Scotch-Irish who brought the potato to North America. While this is technically true, the potato was brought back by the European explorers to their home countries, and eventually found its way to Ireland where it became in a few short years a staple crop. So if Columbus hadn’t come to America, there wouldn’t be French fries… I think I’m in trouble, but correct.

“Holiday foods in the USA (Thanksgiving and Christmas especially) traditionally include turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, baked beans, and mashed potatoes, all of which originate from Native Americans. The original Thanksgiving feast in the year 1621 was a gathering of English colonists and local Indians. The records reveal that the feast which lasted several days included deer, water fowl, turkeys, shellfish, eels, squash, corn, and beans. Other foods were probably eaten as well; chestnuts would have been available as would some berries. However, what is known for sure is that most of the traditional Thanksgiving foods of today were available at that time even if they were not a part of that first Thanksgiving meal almost 400 years ago.”

     So do you want the exhaustive list of Native American foods? Here you go: Casava, chili and bell Peppers, Artichoke; lima, pole, pinto and kidney Beans; Potatoes from Peru; Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin, and Tomatoes. And then there are Black Raspberry, Blueberry, Cacao-Chocolate; Cranberry, Guava, Papaya, Pineapple and Strawberry. Then there are the grains: Corn, Quinoa, Wild Rice. Nuts: Cashew, Peanut, Pecan.  Allspice, Maple Syrup and Vanilla. Plus game such as turkey. That’s quite an extensive list and I’m sure I missed a few.

Finally, if you, like me are suffering from a plethora of acorns, there is good new; you can eat them. “Acorns were also used to make bread and dumplings. For some Native Americans, acorns were an important part of the diet although they required extensive washing with hot water to remove the tannins.”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.