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