Sunday, December 18, 2011

Iroquois Harvest - The Journey Continues

If you haven't already read last week's post, you may want to read that first before continuing here. 

It is late December. You have been trudging through the wintry landscape for almost three weeks. You are cold, wet, tired and hungry. Approaching your destination, an Oneida village near where the Turning Stone casino now stands, you wonder how you will be received  --  as friend or foe. A figure appears at the crest of the next hill. As she approaches, you see that it is a woman bringing you baked pumpkins to eat. Later, at the village you feast on bear meat and salmon every day, the latter caught in the tributaries of the St. Lawrence River. They are so plentiful that the villagers may catch as many as 800 fish in one day.

Iroquois Menu #2
Broiled salmon
Baked squash
Whole wheat bread

Broiled salmon:

4 small salmon steaks (or 2 large salmon fillets)
2 tbsp. canola or olive oil
juice of one lemon
½ minced onion (or 1 clove garlic, minced)
2 tsp. dried herbs (your choice  --  I use “herbes de Provence,” a mixture of rosemary, thyme, basil and oregano)

1. Preheat broiler.
2. Rinse salmon and pat dry with paper towels.
3. Place salmon steaks or fillets on pre-greased broiler pan. Brush with half the oil.
4. Broil salmon, turning after 5-7 minutes.
5. When turned over, brush again with remaining oil, squeeze the lemon juice over the fish, and sprinkle with minced onion and/or garlic and your choice of herbs.
6. Broil again until done, another 5-7 minutes.

You may wish to salt a little to taste. Garlic salt adds a nice flavor if you don’t have fresh garlic.

Baked acorn squash:
I learned this recipe from a roommate in graduate school. Who would have thought that the basic recipe was hundreds of years old?

1 acorn squash
½ c. honey
1 tbsp. butter or margarine
½ tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Wash squash. Split it open carefully with large knife.
3. Scoop out the pulp and seeds. You can bake the lightly salted seeds alongside the squash if you wish; they make a tasty and nourishing snack.
4.  Place squash halves, cut side down, in a shallow baking dish with ½ inch water. This will prevent the squash from getting burned and sticking to the pan. Place pan in oven.
5. After 30 minutes, remove pan from oven, carefully turn squash halves right side up. Pour into each half ¼ c. honey, ½ tbsp. butter or margarine, ¼ tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg.
6. Bake again until done, about another 30 minutes. Seeds will require less baking time and should not be placed in the same pan with the water and squash.

Heat a loaf of whole wheat bread in the oven for the last 5-6 minutes of squash cooking time; it complements the salmon and squash nicely. The Iroquois did not cultivate wheat, but they enjoyed the wheat bread baked by their neighbors at Rensselaerswijck.

Variation: Use butternut squash instead of acorn squash; butter and salt instead of honey. You can reduce baking time by cooking the squash in the microwave for 5-10 minutes. Or, if you’re really in a hurry, do the entire cooking process in the microwave, about 10 minutes each side. 

Salmon, Squash, Whole Wheat Bread
* * *

When the travelers left the Oneida village to return east, they were given salmon, bear meat, corn bread and corn meal to take with them. Along the trail, they would use the corn meal to cook sappaen, a type of porridge much like our modern-day oatmeal. According to food historian Peter Rose, in Food, Drink and Celebrations of the Hudson Valley Dutch, this Iroquois corn mush became so popular with the Dutch colonists that it became a daily dish for them as it had been for the Iroquois. In fact, it survives in a different form in our supermarkets, in canned creamed corn.

On the whole, the diet described by van den Bogaert is a balanced one, with ample sources of protein, carbohydrate and vitamins. In particular, the growing of corn, beans and squash together in the same field was the hallmark of Iroquoian horticulture and the basis of their diet. According to extensive research conducted by Dr. John Hart, Director of Research and Collections at the New York State Museum, the cultivation of these three crops in New York State in a system known as intercropping, dates from about AD 1300. This system, in which bean and squash seeds are planted around sprouting stalks of corn, requires a sophisticated knowledge of agriculture. It is a polyculture that mimics natural plant communities: The corn stalks furnish a support for the bean plants; the beans, as legumes, produce nitrogen which makes it a self-fertilizing system; and the squash vines act as a natural mulch, discouraging the growth of weeds.

In the cooking pot as well as in the field, the Three Sisters work well together. Corn is high in calories, and it is 7-10 % protein. Beans contain a larger amount of protein, including a complementary amino acid to that found in corn. Squashes provide significant calories, vitamins and minerals, and their seeds are high in oil and protein as well.

In the villages visited by van den Bogaert and his companions, foods such as venison, salmon, corn and berries were dried and either hung from the rafters of the longhouses, or kept in bark-lined storage pits or granaries. In this way, there would be enough provisions to last through the long winters, and to share with weary travelers such as van den Bogaert and his companions. 


Author's Note: This post, and the previous one, are based on an article that appeared in The Altamont Enterprise on November 19, 2009. Used by permission.

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