CHOCTAW FOOD

What food did we eat in centuries past?

H.B. Cushman, in the History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians, on page 250, epitomized the Choctaw agricultural development as thus, "The Choctaws have long been known to excel all the North American Indians in agriculture, subsisting to a considerable extent on the product of their fields. In the book Choctaw Social and Ceremonial Life, on page 46, Romans' writing of 1771 is quoted as:

"The Choctaws may more properly be called a nation of farmers than any savages I have met with; they are the most considerable people in Florida. . . Their hunting grounds are in proportion less considerable than any of their neighbors; but as they are very little jealous of their territories, nay with ease part with them, the Chickasaws and they never interrupt each other in their hunting; as I mentioned before."

Elsewhere he tells us that the Chickasaw were obliged to apply to them yearly for corn and beans. Their method of cultivation does not seem to have differed appreciably from that in vogue elsewhere in the Southeast. Land was cleared by burning underbrush and smaller growth, while the trees were girdled and left to die and disintegrate gradually. Before the cornfields were cleared there was a dance. Among the Creeks, planting was done in large communal fields and in small private gardens, the former divided, however, into separate plots for the families composing the town. The community field was planted and cultivated by men and women working together but the garden plots were cared for by some of the old women and were private enterprises. Among the Choctaw all memory of the communal plots has been lost and it is possible that they did not exist. The aboriginal agricultural implement was a crude hoe made out of the shoulder blade of a bison, a stone, or on the coast a large shell. A stick was also used to make holes for planting the seed which was put into hills. Small booths were constructed near the community grounds and young people stationed there to drive away the crows.

Something has been said above regarding Choctaw methods of treating corn and preparing it for food, and Romans has the following on their foods in general:

They cultivate for bread all the species and variety of the Zea (maize), likewise two varieties of that species of Panicum (probably Sorghum drummondii and paniscum maximum) vulgarly called guina corn; a greater number of different phaseolus (beans) and Dolichos (hyancinth beans) than any I have seen elsewhere; the esculent Convovulvus (vulgo)sweet potatoes, and the Helianthus giganteus (sunflower); with the seed of the last made into flour and mixed the flour of the Zea they make a very palatable bread; they have carried the spirit of husbandry so far as to cultivate leeks, garlic, cabbage and some other garden plants, of which they make no use, in order to make profit of them to the traders; they also used to carry poultry to market at Mobile, although it lays at a distance of an hundred and twenty miles from the nearest town; dunghill fowls, and a very few ducks, with some hogs, are the only esculent animals raised in the nation.

They make many kinds of bread of the above grains with the help of water, eggs, or hickory milk; they boil corn and beans together, and make many other preparations of their vegetables, but fresh meat they have only at the hunting season, and then they never fail to eat while it lasts; of their fowls and hogs they seldom eat any as they keep them for profit.

In failure of their crops, they make bread of the different kinds of Fagus (not including merely the beeches but then in addition the chestnut and chinquapin) of the Diospyros (persimmon), of a species of Convolvulus with a tuberous root found in the low cane grounds (wild sweet potato), of the root of a species of Smilax (Choctaw kaltak; Creek kunti), of live oak acorns,and of the young shoots of the Canna (imported probably from the West Indies); in summer many wild plants chiefly of the Drupi (plum) and Bacciferous (berry) kind supply them.

They raise some tobacco, and even sell some to the traders, but when they use it for smoking they mix it with the leaves of the two species of the cariariia (sumac)or of the Liquidambar styraacistua (sweet gum) dried and rubbed to pieces.

Mortars for pounding corn into meal were anciently made by burning hollows in the side of a prone log, a fanner being used to direct the course of the fire, but after axes and chisels were introduced by the whites, they set sections of trees on one end and hollowed out the other end with tools. Corn, hickory nuts and wild potatoes, as well as meat, were ground up in the mortars. Hickory wood was the kind out of which they were usually made because it conveys the best taste to the food. Failing that, they employed oak, though it gives food a puckery taste. Beech could be used but it was scarce, but some woods were not used because of the bad taste they communicate, in particular maple, which gives a taste "sufficiently bad to ruin one's stomach."

They had corncribs measuring not over 8 by 10 feet, each with a single entrance. They were raised fairly high above the round so that snakes could not seek refuge there and sting someone before they could be gotten rid of.

Hickory nuts were gathered in summer and the oil extracted from them was added to corn foods as a seasoning, though the meats were sometimes put in whole. To extract the oil they parched the nuts until they cracked to pieces and then beat them up until they were as fine as coffee grounds. They were then put into boiling water and boiled for an hour or an hour and a half, until they cooked down to a kind of soup from which the oil was strained out through a cloth. The rest was thrown away. The oil could be used at once or poured into a vessel where it would keep a long time.

Walnuts were little used for food. Very little use was made of acorns and no oil was extracted from them. Sometimes they cooked pin oak acorns with hominy but these often caused cramps.

Article From the Choctaw newspaper Bishinik, unknown date.


 

CHOCTAW RECIPES

PASHOFA

1 lb. of cracked corn (pearl hominy)

1 lb. fresh lean pork (meaty back bone)

2qts. water (add more if needed)

Wash and clean corn. Bring water to boil and add corn. Cook slowly, stirring often. When corn is about half done, add the fresh pork. Cook until the meat and corn are tender and soft. The mixture should be thick and soupy. Cooking time is about four hours. Add no salt while cooking. Each individuals salts to his/her own taste. (If meaty backbone is not available, use fresh chopped pork, small pieces. Pork Chops are good to use.)

BANAHA

2 cups cornmeal

1 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups hot water

1 tsp. soda

Corn Shucks (boil about 10 min. before using)

Mix dry ingredients. Add water till mixture is stiff enough to handle easily. Form small oblong balls the size of a tennis ball and wrap in corn shucks. Tie in middle with corn shuck string, or use oblong white rags (8 x 10 inches) cut from an old sheet. They are much better boiled in shucks. Drop covered balls into a deep pot of boiling water. Cover and cook 40 minutes. Serve.

 Article From the Choctaw newspaper Bishinik, unknown date.


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James and Marcia Foley

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