While doing a little time traveling today, I dreamt myself back to the 1700s, packing for an annual trip to the shore. We Abenaki usually had our villages along waterways for access to food, water and travel by canoe. Some of us stayed by our river, lake or other body of water year-round. Many of us had portable housing in the form of wigwams of bark or animal skins. We chose to go by the seashore where it was cool, allowing a nice breeze to come through the wigwam.
In my daydream, my family was anxious to fish and dig for shellfish, to eat them fresh and then smoke or dry some for winter use. I am gorging on raw clams as I wiggle my toes in this soft sand. “Snap out of it!” I think. I could stay here forever, but my time machine is idling and making noises at me.
Then, it hit me, I’ve been brainstorming to find something new and trendy to pass along to my fellow Native Americans to celebrate summer, but that something has been with us all along.
All Native cooks have an inherent traditional wisdom, and it is passed on from our elders.
Most successful dishes are made from the freshest ingredients from our backdoor, like prickly pear cactus, tepary beans, Jerusalem artichoke, rainbow chard and more.
For a fresh summer take of indigenous staples, try mixing mainstays from your own garden and different geographical regions. Why not jicama, apples and avocado in the same salad? Why not corn, heirloom tomatoes and shrimp together? How about day-lily buds, squash blossoms, nasturtiums with peaches or pears?
Black Bean Salad
For an innovative spin on the traditional black bean salad, throw in some matchstic- cut jicama or celery root, about ½ cup each.
2 cans black beans, drained, rinsed lightly
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
½ green bell pepper, fine chopped
½ red bell pepper (or yellow or orange), fine chopped
½ avocado, cubed ½-inch
2 scallions, sliced thin
½ cup cilantro, chopped (or substitute parsley)
4 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
4 tablespoons good olive oil
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and combine well before, chilling at least 3 to 4 hours for flavors to mingle before serving.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.