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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gathering Food the Nimiipuu Way


I think we've all heard Native Americans (Indians) thought highly of the earth and believed all its creatures were gifts. The Nez Perce were especially grateful to the bountiful fish and wildlife in their territories as well as the plants which they harvested to round out their diets.

The men of the Nez Perce built weirs and fished, but the women maintain the weirs and processed the fish. Drying the salmon and trout over fires on racks made of limbs or on sticks stuck in the ground and bent over the fire. In the heat of the summer the fish would also be dried on racks in the hot summer sun and soup was made from the heads.

The men hunted large game animals and could be gone for up to a year or more when they traveled into the plains for buffalo, returning with huge amounts of dried buffalo and hides. The women traveled with them on theses hunts to prepared the meat for transporting back to their villages.

Nothing was wasted of an animal, the meat was cooked, smoked, and dried. The tongue and liver were eaten raw and ears were used as seasoning in soups. The fat was used to cook fry bread and bear meat was barbecued. Pemmican was made from the dried meat. It was broke into pieces that would fit in a mortar and pounded adding intestines and meat fat. This was a staple when traveling. They also made a pemmican of dried salmon and berries which the Nez Perce men carried wrapped in leaves in the bottom of their quivers. This was a nutritious easy-to-carry food when they were hunting.

The women were in charge of gathering roots, herbs, berries, and killing small game. They used sticks called tu`k`es or digging sticks to extract the roots from the earth. In some instances they would span out across valleys teeming with the camas, bitterroot, and kous.

Camas roots were dug from June to September depending on the elevation where they grew. They were gathered in wet upland meadows. Weippe Meadows, Camas Prairie, Palouse Prairie and Grande Ronde Valley. They were baked and steamed. Cooking pits or large holes were dug before the harvest. After the roots were dug they would lay out hot red rocks in the hole, sprinkle with water, put dirt over the rocks, then fresh alder leaves, and a layer of meadow grass. Then the camas. The roots were covered with alder leaves, meadow grass, sprinkled with water and dirt, then a fire built on top and they cooked for three days. The roots were then eaten whole, pounded into flour, or tossed in soup.

Kous was dug from April to July. It was found in dry rocky soil and is similar in shape to a carrot. It was eaten either fresh or dry. Thy peeled off the skin and sun dried it. Then they would pound it into a oatmeal or cornmeal and serve as a cooked mush or make a ball and sun dry it or make a long bread called o`ppah that was smoked.

Bitterroot was dug in Nespelem area in August. It resembles a crocus with pink flowers. The yellow root looks like spaghetti and must be peeled. This root wasn't ground up, it was served like a vegetable. They mostly traded for it with the Plateau Indians. Women ate bitterroot or made tea to increase their milk flow after childbirth.

Wild onions were the first root of spring, dug in April. They have a fern-like top and the bulb is the size of a walnut. They also dug wild carrot in May. It grows in clusters in damp or wet areas. The blossom is two feet high and smells like the food. It is a finger sized food with a brown jacket and white meat. Sweet and rich flavor and may be eaten raw. They also dried and ground it for porridge and boiled it fresh like a potato.Or preserved the root by drying and grinding it into flour for loaves that were smoked and stored.

They stone boiled soup in willow baskets. Putting a rock that has been heating in a fire into the basket. They stored food in baskets and hide bags as well as caches or pits dug in the ground where large amounts of food would be stored for the whole band. These could be any where along their well traveled routes or hidden.

That is some more of the information I've gleaned while working on my paranormal trilogy set among the Nez Perce.

www.patyjager.net
www.patyjager.blogspot.com

Sources: Nez Perce Women in Transition, 1877-1990, Caroline James
Nee Me Poo- Allen p> Slickpoo Sr. and Deward E. Walker, Jr.

Photos: http://www.firstpeople.us

13 comments:

Nicole McCaffrey said...

Hmm, women doing all the hard work. Sound familiar? LOL.

Not sure I could go for the fish head soup or eat raw tongue, though. *G*

Great, informative blog!

Paty Jager said...

Yes, Nicole, there are some of their staples that I don't think I could keep down.

Mary McCall said...

Well... if someone can suck the head of a crawfish in NO, they might give the fish heads a try. Thanks for the interesting info. I always love learning new things. Looking forward to the book you researched this for.

Susan Macatee said...

Great info, Paty!

I just watched Dancing With Wolves and shuddered at the scene where the brave cuts the tongue out of the dead buffalo and takes a bite. But they didn't waste anything!

Paty Jager said...

Thanks Mary. The first book of this trilogy comes out in August.

Susan, so true. They even made tools from the bones, horns, and antlers.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Paty, your blog is extremely interesting, but it made me glad I have a microwave and refrigerator and a grocery store! I have heard that in spite of all they had to do, Indian women actually had more leisure time than we do. I love reading time travel, but I'm holding on to my time and place. I'm not one of those who longs for another era. I'm happy where I am.

Sally Bishop said...

It's great to have a place to share all your research and great to have a place to glean from other's efforts. I, too, am happy for modern conveniences but I would love to spend a summer doing some of these things just for the experiene of it then back to my tub, toilet and frig.

Sarah M. Anderson said...

Amazing info! I love this sort of background stuff. It doesn't make it into my contemporary books very often, but you never know when it'll pop up.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Caroline! Yes, I believe part of the reason they had leisure time was the fact usually there was more than one woman per household. There would be the wife and her mother (if the father were no longer alive) and then other wives that may have been brought in due to the deaths of their husbands. Men would marry their brothers or extended relatives wives to give them a place to live. And in return they helped with all the chores for that family. So there could be 4-5 women in one household all working which would give them more leisure time.

Paty Jager said...

Sally, I agree, though I think it would be fun to experience this type of lifestyle in all seasons to get a true flavor of it.

Paty Jager said...

Sarah, you never know when a tidbit in history might make it into a contemporary story, so it's always good to be learning new things.

I write both historical and contemporary and it's amazing how some of what I learn from history I can incorporate into a contemporary.

Eunice Boeve said...

Interesting blog. Fish head soup wouldn't be so bad if that's what you were used to eating. My husband's dad never saw a vegetable he liked, unless it was corn, so consequently my husband shied like a spooked horse when spinach or broccoli first appeared on our table. As kids in Montana we caught lots of trout in the creek nearby. Mom cooked them head and all and we thought it was fun to eat the round, white, and tasteless eyeballs.

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I'm really glad, I think It's great to have a place to share all your research and great to have a place to glean from other's efforts, think you so much for sharing with us...