What food did we eat in centuries
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
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
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
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,
1 lb. of cracked corn (pearl
1 lb. fresh lean pork (meaty back
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.)
2 cups cornmeal
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 tsp. soda
Corn Shucks (boil about 10 min.
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
From the Choctaw newspaper Bishinik,
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