Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Observations on the Creek and Cherokee Indians food
Observations on the Creek and Cherokee Indians food traditions (by William Bartram in 1789, From "Transaction of the American Ethnological Society," Vol. 3 Pt. 1. Extracts)
They use a strong lixivium prepared from ashes of bean stalks and other vegetables in all their food prepared from corn, which otherwise, they say, breeds worms in their stomachs.
The vines or climbing stems of the climber (Bigonia Crucigera) are equally divided longitudinally into four parts by the same number of their membranes somewhat resembling a piece of white tape by which means, when the vine is cut through and divided traversely, it presents to view the likeness of a cross. This membrane is of a sweet, pleasant taste. The country people of Carolina crop these vines to pieces, together with china brier and sassafras roots, and boil them in their beer in the spring, for diet drink, in order to attenuate and purify the blood and juices. It is a principal ingredient in Howard's famous infusion for curing the yaws, etc., the virtues and use of which he obtained from Indian Doctors.
Their animal food consists chiefly of venison, bear's flesh, turkeys, hares, wild fowl, and domestic poultry; and also of domestic kind, as beeves, goats, and swine - never horse flesh, though they have horses in great plenty; neither do they eat the flesh of dogs, cats or any such creatures as are rejected by white people. Their vegetable food consists chiefly of corn, rice, convelvulus batatas, or those nourishing roots usually called the sweet or Spanish potatoes (but in the Creek country they never eat the Irish potato).
All the species of cucurbita, as squashes, pumpkins, watermelons, etc. but of the cucumbers, they cultivate none of the species as yet, neither do they cultivate our farinaceous grains as wheat, barley, spelt, rye, buckwheat, etc. (not having got the use of the plow amongst them, though it has been introduced some years ago). The chiefs rejected it, alleging that it would starve their old people who employ themselves in planting and selling their produce, and selling their produce to the traders for their support and maintenance; seeing that by permitting the traders to use the plow, one or two persons could easily raise more grain than all the old people of the town could odd by using the hoe. Turnips, parsnips, salads, etc, they have no knowledge of.
But besides the cultivated fruits above recited, with peaches, oranges, plums (Chickasaw plums), figs, and some apples, they have in use a vast variety of wild or native vegetables, both fruits and roots, viz: diospyros, morus rubra, gleditsia, miltiloba, s.tricanthus; all the species of juglans and acorns, from which they extract a very sweet oil, which enters into all their cooking; and several species of palms, which furnish them a great variety of agreeable and nourishing food. Grapes, too, they have in great variety and abundance, which they feed on occasionally when ripe; they also prepare them for keeping and lay up for winter and spring time (Vitis Vinifera; I call them so because they approach, as respects the largeness of the fruit and their shape and flavor, much nearer the grapes of Europe and Asia, of which wine is made, and are especially different from our wild grapes, and as different from the fox or bull grape of Penn. and Carolina).
A species of smilax (s. pseudochina) affords them a delicious and nourishing food, which is prepared from its vast, tuberous roots. They dig up these roots, and while yet fresh and full of juice, chop them into pieces, and then macerate them well in wooden mortars; this substance they put in vessels , nearly filled with clean water, when being mixed well with paddles, whilst the finer parts are yet floating in the liquid, they decant it off into other vessels, leaving the farinaceous substance at the bottom, which being taken out and dried is an impalpable powder or farina, of a reddish color. Then when mixed in boiling water, becomes a beautiful jelly, which sweetened with honey and sugar, affords most nourishing food for children or aged people; or when mixed with fine corn flour, and fried in fresh bear's grease makes excellent fritters.
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