In Wampanoag legend, Granny Squannit was and remains a very prominent figure. I had heard about her all my life from my mother who, although she was Abenaki, grew up in Sconicut Neck, Fairhaven, Massachusetts, and had frequent contacts amongst the Wampanoag of both Mashpee and Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard.
I was told that Granny Squannit could do anything she wanted and would snatch me away if I misbehaved, or dump over my berry basket after I filled it if I didn’t put it down carefully. She was also benevolent and gave presents to good children (yes, I believed it all). In legend, Granny Squannit, a tiny woman, was considered the wife of the giant Maushop, also known as Moshup. Part of his legend says that when he lived on Martha’s Vineyard, he would cook up whales for his dinner, plucking up whole trees by the roots for the fire.
An offering of all the tobacco on the island was made to him. Once he smoked it in his giant pipe, he knocked the ash out and formed the island of Nantucket. When more people came to Martha’s Vineyard, many of them Christians, he said he must take his leave of them and he did—never to be heard from again. There were no other giants amongst the people, yet other Native people in New England have stories of a giant in their legends.
The Abenaki have Gluscap. The Mohegan have a similar giant, same name Maushop or Moshup, and a tiny woman in their tales of the Muhkeahweesug (Makiawisug) or Little People. Granny Squannit is considered their leader. These Little People could do many deeds, both naughty and nice. They could find lost things, help find medicine plants and heal people, scare children, grant wishes—a laundry list of powers and tricks at their disposal.
Granny Squannit could sometimes be appeased by a small basket of food as an offering. She particularly likes berries, cornbread, and meat every now and then. As we get into the later and lovely portion of Spring, I think about her a lot and all of the celebrations of gratitude that are upcoming everywhere in Indian Country. There are strawberry thanksgivings, planting and blessing ceremonies, festivals and feast days—these are the places where we get to bring our own gifts to share.
3 Granny Smith apples, cored, ½-inch dice
1 pound red potatoes, cooked, chilled, thin sliced
1-1/2 cups frozen peas
1-1/2 cups frozen plain yogurt
2 teaspoons horseradish
2 teaspoons fresh mint, minced
½ teaspoon salt
Combine the apples, potatoes and peas in a large bowl, set aside. Combine yogurt, horseradish, mint and salt in a small bowl, mixing well. Pour this over the top of the apple mixture and toss to coat. Cover and chill for at least two hours. Serve on a platter lined with lettuce.
Corn Bread Casserole
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
2 large onions, chopped
6 tablespoons butter (or substitute)
2 tablespoons milk
2 17-ounce cans cream style corn
1 pound package of cornmeal muffin mix
1 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Grease or spray a 9×13-inch baking dish (glass preferred). Saute the onions in butter or substitute until golden in a frying pan then set aside. In a medium bowl, mix eggs, corn and milk together, add muffin mix and corn blending all together well. Spoon the onion over the top, then the sour cream over the onion. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake for 35 minutes or until puffed and golden. Let stand about 10 minutes before cutting into squares. May be refrigerated, or frozen and reheated.
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.