This year, let’s give it up for the originators of our favorite meal of the year: the Native Americans.
“Most all of the foods that we associate with Thanksgiving are Native American foods,” says Beverly Cox, the co-author of the recently reissued “Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking.”
“Sweet potatoes, corn (like cornbread stuffing), the turkey (a native animal to the Americas), cranberries, green beans, pumpkin pie — pumpkins originated in the Americas as well — virtually our whole dinner came from the Indians.”
And while we celebrate Thanksgiving just once a year, in earlier times, giving thanks was a regular occurrence.
“Thanksgiving ceremonies, for most Native American tribes, were very much a part of their lives,” she continues. “There were Thanksgiving ceremonies periodically throughout the year to punctuate the different harvests. There would be a Thanksgiving ceremony for the first buffalo, or the first salmon that were caught — they’d treat it with a great ceremony to thank the salmon for giving themselves to feed the people.”
So before you stuff your face this year, we recommend giving thanks to the Native Americans for helping your mom come up with that awesome pie.
Hidatsa stuffed sugar pumpkin
Many of the Plains tribes originated near the Great Lakes and in the northern woodlands, and thus were familiar with wild rice. It became and important trade item, finding its way from Woodland to Prairie tribes. It was then traded for buffalo hides and dried meat from the hunting peoples on the plains, who were long removed from their ancestral rice marshes.
The Mandan and Hidatsa villages along the Missouri River in what is now central North Dakota were major trading centers for both indigenous and non-Indian foods. These tribes raised pumpkins and squash and also traded with tribes to the east and the north, and thus had a more varied diet than their nomadic neighbors.
1 4- to 5-pound sugar pumpkin
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon dry mustard
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil or rendered fat
1 pound ground venison, buffalo or beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup wild rice, cooked
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon crushed dried sage
¼ teaspoon pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Cut the top from the pumpkin and remove seeds and strings. Prick cavity with a fork and rub with 1 teaspoon of salt and the mustard. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add meat and onion and saute over medium-high heat until browned. Off the heat, stir in wild rice, eggs, remaining salt, sage and pepper. Stuff pumpkin with this mixture. Place ½ inch of water in the bottom of a shallow baking pan.
2. Put pumpkin in the pan and bake for 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Add more water to the pan as necessary to avoid sticking. Cut pumpkin into wedges, giving each person both pumpkin and stuffing.