By Marsha Reeves
Slow cooked venison roast with ramps, goldenrod, yarrow and a splash of maple vinegar, all sourced from within 5 miles, except for the maple vinegar made by a friend in the Rabbit River watershed. This dish was inspired by Sean Sherman, author of ‘The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. Sean’s idea is that the land around us, especially for those of us who live away from cities, contains wonderful flavors, textures and nutrients that most modern people have yet to know.
I think I might truly be a foodie, at least as far as indigenous food goes. And I don’t mean fry bread and Indian tacos.
I first experienced the beauty and profound taste delights of indigenous local foods at the Intertribal Food Summit south of Grand Rapids several years ago. There I had an ‘instant breakfast’ of freshly hand ground blue corn with blueberries and maple syrup and I immediately began figuring out how to grow that corn and get a grinder like that. It was corn way beyond what I’d ever experienced before. This week a friend and I finally replicated that taste in my own kitchen. It was an experience of fulfillment and delight like few others in my life. And it was worth all that it took to get there.
I started with gifts of some heritage corn seeds from two Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) friends. The Haudenosaunee as well as the Anishinaabe (Michigan tribes) have been growing and living with corn for over a thousand years. Both Peoples are truly experts on how to grow corn and what to do with it. I’ve been gardening with several generations of those seeds for years now, figuring out how to properly nurture the corn that will nourish me and how to keep it safe from those clever and persistent raccoons. I sometimes dream of a raccoon coat, but am not there yet.
Through all the growing seasons, spring, summer and fall, I gather sap, leaves, stems, berries, nuts and roots from right here and preserve them so they’re available year ‘round. And I trade the gifts of our generous Mother Earth with other friends who gather so that everyone has what we need. My pantry is now stocked with dried ramps, goldenrod, yarrow, cedar, sassafras, nettles, monarda, hazelnuts, rose hips and sumac berries, all of which grow here next to the Muskegon River and can serve as seasoning and/or medicine.
We don’t just eat this way on Sundays, but eat local and native food nearly every day. My skill with these foods is growing and I continue to learn about indigenous food ways. As I do, the delicate flavors and rich savory meals expand in their frequency and variety. Nobody at home or in our potluck circles is complaining.
I’ve heard people brag that they eat like kings. I think a stronger praise is to say that we eat like Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee.
Marsha Reeves, Mohawk/Ojibwe descent, is a Holistic Nurse, native foods lover and gardener. She lives in the woods near the Muskegon River. Her water address is: ‘The first bayou on your right downstream from the Croton Dam.
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