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Natural Awakenings Sarasota / Manatee / Charlotte

Recipes for a Traditional Native American Feast

Oct 31, 2012 04:42PM ● By Suzi Harkola


Seeking something different for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner? Hankerin’ to get a little more traditional in your celebration? Look no further than the recipes used by the Native Americans as they shared with the Pilgrims the bounty of fruits, grains, vegetables and meats found in the natural environment of the New World.
Stan “One Horse” Groves is the author of The Native Nations Intertribal Cookbook, which features traditional recipes he has collected from various cookbooks representing the major tribes of North America. He’s kept the recipes as written, for the most part, substituting readily available seasonings for the more exotic berries and nuts found in the forest, and adapting the recipes for modern ovens.
Stan tells us that Native Americans did not sit down together as a family for meals. Rather, women began cooking a stew in the morning and family and other tribe members would eat throughout the day as hunger dictated. This recipe for Autumn Stew from the Osage Tribe is a typical “slow cooked” stew.
Autumn Stew Ingredients
Chicken, turkey, or other wild bird meat.
Sweet potato
Cook bird and remove meat from bone, use broth and meat as base. Add corn, potato, carrots and any other vegetable you have handy. Slice sweet potatoes after you have peeled them and add the sweet potatoes and greens the last few minutes. You should have the sweet potato just at the point of being tender to a fork and not mushy. This should only take 5 or 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
Other recipes range from simple to not-so-simple. For example, a recipe for Currant Pudding (Passamaquoddy Tribe) is quite straightforward: “Go pick some nice fresh currants, leave the ants behind. Wash up what little managed to make it to the house. Squish them up some. Boil a little while.”
On the more wild side, you’ll find Squirrel Gumbo, Roast Turtle (one non-endangered turtle, one campfire; put the turtle on his back on the fire; when you hear the shell crack, he’s done), Choctaw Possum (the trick here is to keep the possum penned up for a couple of weeks and feed him good before butchering), Rav’n Raven (the other dark meat) and the like.
Stan frequently speaks at schools and community events to share knowledge of Native American farming and cooking. His presentations include a discussion of the traditional Three Sisters’ Garden, which includes corn, beans and squash, all planted in the same hole.
“This type of garden forms an ecosystem by creating a community of plants and animals,” he said. “Each plant helps the others grow. It’s really an early form of the companion planting we’re familiar with today.”
A recipe that relies on the veggies found in the Three Sisters’ Garden is Ribbons of Summer Squash with Sage Pesto.
Julienne of zucchini and yellow summer squash (prepare on a
mandolin or with a grater – do not peel)
Cooked heirloom beans (anasazi, appaloosa, black, butterscotch,
calypso, tepary, chestnut lima or any variety)
Chopped fresh tomatoes
Roasted corn kernels
Canola oil
In a large sauté pan, heat just a bit of oil to keep from sticking,
or use a non-stick pan.
Add 2 cups of mixed squash julienne to hot pan. Add
1cup corn, 1cup tomatoes, 1cup mixed beans and 1 heaping tablespoon of sage pesto (see below). 
Toss quickly. Do not overcook. 
Place in large bowl, garnish with fresh sage leaves, serve immediately.
Sage Pesto
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup garlic, chopped
1 cup fresh sage, firmly packed
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1 cup roasted pine nuts
1 tsp. salt
juice of 1 lemon
Optional: 1 T fresh, mild goat cheese
Mix all ingredients together in blender.
Stan and other members of the Native Nations Museum participate in many festivals and Pow Wows across the state and region. Their Museum displays include Native American crafts and jewelry and a collection of antique dolls, as well as Stan’s food display. He loves to work with children and has been active in 4-H since his college years at the University of Maryland.
“Kids nowadays wouldn’t know how to take a seed and put it in the ground, or to fish or trap, how to use cattails, how to find dandelion greens,” he said. “When I talk to them and show them the way it was done so many years ago, I’m gratified by their response. The seed has been planted. If I get across to one child, I’ve done what I set out to do. People have to realize that there’s a time when we may have to go back to the old ways.”
Stan “One Horse” Groves is a Master Gardener specializing in traditional Native American gardening. He’s also a member of the board of the Native Nations Museum. Stan and his wife of 45 years, Paula “Talks With Panthers” Groves, live in Brooksville, Florida, surrounded by one and a half acres of natural Native American gardens. For more information about the Native Nations Museum, visit
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