Listen One Minnesota author proposes that the local food movement goes back to the indigenous populations of our region
We talk about the local food movement as if it is a relatively recently phenomenon. But one Minnesota poet and writer argues in a new book that the local food movement goes back, way back, to the indigenous populations of our region.
"Original Local" by Heid Erdrich details the concept. She spoke with Tom Crann of MPR News' All Things Considered.
TOM CRANN: The local food movement is hot. Tell us about the indigenous food movement.
HEID ERDRICH: The indigenous food movement is as old as the foods that are in this region that grew here: wild rice, corn that came here many thousands of years ago and all the local game. This was part of something that was part of indigenous culture; using the gifts that were around you. And so, protecting those gifts has been a longtime struggle, as well as a delight and part of a culinary tradition.
CRANN: A lot of this is built around the "three sisters."
ERDRICH: The three sisters concept as most people know it comes from Haudenosaunee -- or Iroquois - people, that corn, beans and squash would be grown together. Most people know that from the story of Squanto, or the more popular myth of Thanksgiving. But this was a traditional way of growing crops. It was very much part of the traditions of the upper Midwest, too. And particular corns were grown in particular tribal nations. This was true all the way out into the middle of North Dakota, which I write about in the book. Some of the cultures there were very much corn planters. The tradition was of the three sisters: you grow them together, you've got a great balanced diet. They like each other, they help each other, and there are stories around that, too.
CRANN: If you want to explore this, you can start there with the three sisters, and then you give us advice for the pantry, things we need to keep to "indigenize" our pantry.
ERDRICH: In some of the areas, we talk about the "fourth sister." Out in North Dakota the fourth sister was the sunflower. The sunflower seeds, oil, even the petals were used. These were things that people used in their cooking, which were recorded both by western writers as well as those stories that continue within our cultures, our own stories of how to use food. Sometimes they come in what people think of as traditional storytelling. They're actually a recipe.
CRANN: You bring up that point in the book: That all good recipes are, in effect, stories.
ERDRICH: I think that's what I discovered, because I'm not an experienced cook. I'm not a chef in any way. I'm not even a strict local foodist. I just grew up in a tradition where we gathered and grew our own food. And I thought I knew a lot about cooking, but I realized that most people when they give you the recipe they're just giving you the cast of characters. They're not giving you the actual way to make the food. They're giving you the ingredients.
CRANN: Thanksgiving is approaching. You say that there's much wrong with our collective myth. There obviously has been controversy over the Thanksgiving Day celebration through the years, from a Native American perspective. But you say it should be a celebration of indigenous foods.
ERDRICH: And for my own delight, mostly. Because I don't want to give up a holiday that is really pleasurable to me and to my family because it's a harvest thing.
We'll bring our things that we made -- our squash. My brother makes lots of types of fermented foods: sauerkraut, and so forth. We bring these things. Those may not be traditional foods, but I don't want to give that holiday up. I want to think about it more as a celebration, and maybe even convince others to think of it that way. Because I think we're beginning to understand that the history we were given about the Indians carefully bringing the Pilgrims food -- it's just wrong. It's not accurate in any way. It's a myth.
CRANN: What is on your Thanksgiving (if I may call it that) table?
ERDRICH: There's a section in the cookbook called, "It starts with Bangs and ends with Gizzards." It's about the long email list that goes back and forth between us at Thanksgiving time, or Indigenous Foods Day, as I try to get people to call it. And it starts with "bangs," which are traditional fried bread --which actually came out of ration food that different tribes were given -- but is very much part of Native culture now. And it ends with fried chicken gizzards, which is also a favorite that people in my family have gotten to love. It's sort of a funny list, but there are a hundred things in between bangs and gizzards.
CRANN: Then there's the secret recipe pumpkin pie, which you say was your mom's recipe.
ERDRICH: I like to host "Pie Friday" every year. I like to have a party where everybody can bring their leftover pie and we can swap pie. I tried to make her pumpkin pie and it didn't come out right, and I was like, "mom, why doesn't my pie taste like yours?" and she said, "well, did you make it with butternut squash?" I said, "no." So I revived that one as a "secret ingredient" in the cookbook, because it's actually not pumpkin.
Recipes courtesy of "Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories, and Recipes from the Upper Midwest" by Heid E. Erdrich, published by Minnesota Historical Society Press.
A longtime friend once served my mostly vegetarian family a seriously tasty manoomin dish that, in my mind, was stuffed manicotti.
Revelation! It had never occurred to me to use manoomin in place of ground beef. I devised my own version and at some point thanked my friend for the inspiration, describing the dish I had created in tribute. It sounded good, she replied, but her meal was an experiment with manoomin enchiladas.
Oh, well. Sometimes sharing recipes is like a game of telephone and the resulting understanding hilariously altered but usually delicious.
You can substitute six ounces of any pasta sauce for the red peppers; however, you might want to taste a bit with manoomin first to see if you like the flavor combination.
1 (8-ounce) package manicotti noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided, plus more for pan
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small onion, minced
½ teaspoon oregano
1 cup cooked manoomin, cooled or room temperature
1 (6- or 8-ounce) jar roasted red peppers with liquid
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 cup shredded smoked mozzarella or gouda
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare manicotti according to package directions, drain, and cool. Grease an 8 by 8-inch baking pan with olive oil; set aside. In a skillet set over medium heat, warm ½ tablespoon olive oil and cook mushrooms until browned. In a separate pan, heat remaining ½ tablespoon olive oil and cook garlic and onion until soft, then stir in oregano. Allow all ingredients to cool until comfortable to handle.
To a large bowl, add manoomin and cooled mushrooms and garlic-onion mixture, stirring to combine. Prepare roasted red peppers by removing any very charred and black areas; if some are whole, slice to match width of manicotti tubes.
Stir ricotta into manoomin mixture. Stir in salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a large resealable plastic bag. Snip a hole in one corner of the bag to pipe the filling into the cooled manicotti shells, or just spoon it in. Place filled manicotti shells in the prepared baking dish. Place roasted red pepper segments over each manicotti shell, like a little blanket. Pour liquid from red peppers into bare areas of pan, and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Uncover, add shredded cheese, and bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until cheese bubbles and browns.
Secret Ingredient Pumpkin Pie
My mother has an almost identical recipe she calls Favorite Pumpkin Pie, but when I made it, the result was not nearly as good as hers. When I asked why her pie was so good and mine not, even though I followed her recipe, she offhandedly told me she always uses butternut squash, which she says makes perfect pumpkin pie. Little detail left out there, Mom. But I guess that's the nature of the secret ingredient.
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell
2 cups cooked and pureed butternut squash
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup evaporated milk
Preheat to 450 degrees. Grease pie plate with butter; line with pastry shell. Use a standing or hand mixer to blend squash, eggs, sugar, spices, and milk. Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for an additional 40 to 50 minutes. The pie is done when a knife inserted at the center comes out clean.
For pumpkin pie without crust: add two heaping tablespoons of Bisquick to the filling and blend. Pour into greased pie plate and bake as directed.