Many of the foods enjoyed in the United States today came to us from recipes passed along by the Native Americans who had lived off the bounty of the land long before the European explorers and settlers arrived. Some of these dishes have become national standards.
American Indian recipes featured the plants and animals available in any given locale. The traditional diet would have been abundant since settlements are located only where a sustainable food supply is available. The vast size of the country and its many microclimates offered a wide variety of foods from which to choose.
Of necessity, American Indian recipes are seasonal, using the foods available throughout the year as the seasons changed. As different crops matured and became ready for harvest, these foods were enjoyed at the peak of their ripeness. Migratory animals also played a role in the seasonality of the Native American diet.
Indian recipes from the Eastern Woodlands were based on what was known as the Three Sisters – corn, beans, and squash. Succotash, often enjoyed today, is made from lima beans, tomatoes, and corn. Hikers and campers are familiar with pemmican, which is a blend of nuts, berries, and rendered fat that is pulverized to form a “patty” or “cookie” and then dried for long-term storage and easy transportability.
American Indian recipes for tamales are as varied as today’s sandwich. Native Americans have been dining on this corn-based dish for more than 5,000 years. It is sometimes served filled with meat, cheese, and chilies and sometimes with sweet fillings.
Tortillas have been eaten for centuries and American Indian recipes for this staple food item use both maize (corn) and wheat flours. Fry bread recipes were developed on Indian reservations when cooks had to rely on only the ingredients distributed to them.
The Native American peoples passed along many recipes that made delicious and nutritious dishes, many of which we can make today. Today’s supermarkets and specialty food shops carry many of the basic ingredients the Native Americans used and well-stocked bookstores have cookbooks that feature American Indian recipe collections.