Traditional Plains American Indian Recipes

horseheader11.jpgGood Morning!

In the tradition of some of  my recent posts, I thought I’d shower you with some traditional American Indian recipes — specifically Plains Indians.  Now, before I get started, let me reference the cook book that I’ll be using.  The info I’m giving you comes directly from the book Cooking With Spirit by Darcy Williamson and Lisa Railsback.  Grandfather George just gave this cookbook to me, so as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to share it with you.–+North+American+Indian+Food+and+Fact&x=8&y=22

This is the url that will take you directly to Amazon and the book — there are no pictures available for the book cover at Amazon.  Sorry.  It’s a beautiful cover that I was hoping to share with you also. 

adam-beach.jpgHave you ever wondered how to make pemmican, Indian Plains Corn Bread, Sioux Jerky — or maybe Sioux Prairie Turnip Pudding?

You will find these recipes and many more in this book.  But what I love about his book is that it not only gives you the recipe, but it tells you a bit of history of the recipe.  It also gives you foods that you can use and pick and eat in times of trouble — survival foods that are okay to eat when you don’t know what else to do.  Good info to have — just in case.

images15Okay, let’s take up Sioux Jerky — again this is from the book, Cooking With Spirit.  In cutting up the meat, don’t cut across the grain, and cut the meat into very thin slices.  One then hangs the meat on poles and makes sure that pieces of meat don’t touch one another.   Let them dry in the air naturally and cover at night.  It’s “done” when it’s hard and dry.  By the way, when I make  jerky, I usually marinade the meat in red wine and/or soy sauce and then I usually dry the meat in a dehydrator.

images11A friend of mine, who is Blackfeet, smokes the meat first, then dries it in the sun, or in a smoking house specially made for making jerky.   The above, by the way, is a Traditional recipe from the book.  Okay, here’s another recipe from this book:  Pemmican:  I’m quoting here:  “Dry long, thin strips of buffalo meat.  Pound meat to a coarse powder.  Cut raw fat into walnut-sized pieces and melt over the slow fire. Pour fat over pounded meat and mix in some dried serviceberries.  Mix it well and pack in parfletches.”  By the way, it was said that a few handfuls of this pemmican could nourish and keep a man going all day long.

quanahAnd here’s another traditional recipe:  Coal Roasted Buffalo:

Ensure meat is at room temperature.  Rub the meat all over with garlic and place the meat directly on the coals (wood coals).  If one wished a rare roast, one roasted it about 15 minutes per pound, or if medium, about 20-25 minutes per pound.  Actually this sounds delicious.    There’s also A Wind River Reservation recipe for Lena’s Water Crackers, as well as Roasted Antelope, Pawnee Prairie Chicken and popped wild rice.

endtour1.jpeBut most of all I thought I’d leave you with this quote from the book, which I found fascinating:  “Many of the plants are healers and grow in families or tribes. They can be sun plants or moon plants, their sap or “blood” moving with the rising and setting of the sun(male) or waxing and waning of the moon (female).  There is a chief (sun) or mother (moon) plant that is the guardian of the family and it is to them an offering is made (usually tobacco or corn pollen) in exchange and recognition of their healing powers…

“When any leaf or stem, flower or root is taken, consideration is given as to where the sap’s power is most prevalent. ..

“When medicine is sought for healing, one must bear in mind that plants taken with consideration and reverence, that medicine will have far superior curing power because of the care and knowledge that went into its harest.  One cannot harm one living being and then expect to use it to cure another.  For example, taking a plant without consideration created an imbalance.  Therefore, the purpose of hearling is thwarted or defeated, as a balance of health is what is sought in the first place…”thumbnail12

I loved this.  There is much, much more wisdom that has been passed down from generation to generation, and it’s not simply the Plains Tribes recipes that figure in the book.  There is music, songs, poems and much, much wisdom in this book.  I recommend it highly.


I hope you’ll bear with me a moment as I thank Grandfather George for giving me this wonderful book.  If you like to cook, if you like unusal and traditional recipes, you’ll love this book.

51obnqdgasl_sl500_aa240_1I also hope that if you haven’t already done so, please pick up a copy of my latest book, Black Eagle, either here online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Borders or at your local bookstore.

What are your favorite recipes?  Did your elders teach you traditional ways of cooking or of preparing foods?  Come on in and let’s talk.

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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27 thoughts on “Traditional Plains American Indian Recipes”

  1. Hi, Karen. I remember reading in a novel…long ago…about an Indian making pemmican. It’s amazing really when you think how they managed to preserve food. Not just Native Americans but everyone. Turn fragile milk into long lasting cheese. Fish that would spoil in three days is smoked and keeps all winter, or packed in brine to last.
    Canning or drying vegetables. It’s a wonder really. I honestly still don’t quite get how tuna stays fresh in a can. I mean seriously, why would that work???

  2. HI Mary!

    Thanks so much for your insights. Yeah, how did people figure all this out. Maybe trial and error, although I know that in Native America, those who pick the plants ask the plant what it does first. : )

    Also in Native America, the bear is considered an herbalist. Interesting, huh?

  3. Kay, this is wonderful! I’ve always wondered what pemmican is. For some reason I thought it was a way of preparing deer meat and was sort of like jerky. I guess it can be made from any kind of meat though. I’m wondering what the consistency is. Is it kinda like a jelly?

    You’re so blessed to have Grandfather George. He seems like an amazing, very wise, man. I think I’m going to have to order his book.

  4. Hi Karen, My family’s traditional recipes come from either Texas (my mom’s family) or Sweden (my dad’s side.) My grandmother made great chicken with homemade noodles, but she was legendary for her cookies. Love those almond crescents!

    My maternal grandmother was from Texas with German / French ancestry. I have a recipe from her for German cole slaw. It’s got tons of vinegar and pepper. Talk about tangy! My husband loves it.

  5. I am always interested in Indian Culture being part Cherokee and Blackfeet. I have a Southwestern Indian cookbook I bought while in Arizona. I also love to collect cookbooks, use them and mark them up and add to my tried and true recipes.
    In my tried and true receipts are recipes I have collected in my travels when husband worked welding. So I have Mexican, Vietemese, and those I grew up on as well.
    My Grandmother’s receipt for Sugar Cookies was for 30 dozens so we had a time cutting it down. She baked for all the grandchildren at one time.
    Her Lemon Drop Cookie recipe from sour milk I have never located anywhere else.
    I got your newsletter inviting me over so here I am.

  6. HI Victoria,

    Yes, I remember well one of your blogs on Texas. Interestingly, my mother also made chicken with homemade noodles. One of my most favorite meals.

    Thanks for your insights.

  7. Hi Jane!

    Gosh, it’s great to hear from you. I love that you are collecting recipes. I have a few from my mother, given to me by my sister — who collected them. I’m so glad to have them because my sister and mother are no longer with us in physical form.

    30 doz. cookies. Almost impossible for me to imagine — making them all from scratch.

  8. My relatives are from Sicily so I have picked up some recipes but not as many as I would have liked. My mother and her sister split the household duties (when their mom was helping on the farm). Unfortunately my mother did the cleaning and my aunt the cooking. And wouldn’t you know, my aunt had two boys who never cared about cooking and my mom had two girls. My sister keeps the clean house, I like to cook 🙂

  9. What fun you have given me today, Karen. My Grandfather Hallett used to make pemmican. We lived in the middle of the Chippewa National Forest in northern MN. You brought back some fond memories.

    As for the plants, there used to be a fern that looked a lot like asparagus (sp?). I think it was called a fiddle fern. It was just about the most delicious thing I had ever eaten. It grew wild out in the woods, but it was edible during a very short season. I haven’t seen or heard of it for years. And of course we ate dandelions every spring, but only before it had a bloom on it. Add a little crisp bacon, some vinegar dressing, and yummy!

    Guess I’ll go get something to eat. I’m getting hungry.
    Janet Elaine Smith

  10. I collect recipes, too. And cook books. I started collecting while I was in vocational school for a while. And although my mom and grandma both did traditional Karelian foods, I actually learned more about cooking -traditional foods included- in vocational school than I ever did at home. Mind you, some foods that are now considered traditional Finnish foods, like potatoe rieska (bread) or Karelian pasties, didn’t even exist before someone brought potatoes here and started importing rice -which obviously doesn’t grow here. Making potato rieska is a good way to get rid of left over mashed potatoes. You only need to add a little bit of salt and some flour, make small flat breads out of the dough and put them in the oven.

  11. Gosh Janet, your grandfather actually made pemmican. That’s so cool, and I must admit that you’ve made me hungry, too!

    I think I’ll go have some lunch. 🙂

  12. Please thank Grandfather George for us – in gifting you with the cookbook, he has gifted us! In fact, he will have gifted the next generations in my family, because they will be receiving a copy of the book from me. My daughter and her family are all involved in scouting. These recipes would make great projects for a scouting weekend, especially the Pemmican and the Popped
    Wild Rice.

    Pat Cochran

  13. We will be heading for Oklahoma and Texas on Saturday. Will be going to the Cherokee museum in OK. They should have the book in their gift shop. Usually buy books at museums and historic sites to help support them. Sounds good.
    Favorite native american food, fry bread. Over 25 years ago we visited Taos Pueblo and bought some from two elderly women cooking it over coals in the plaza. It was our first fry bread and the best we have ever had. Our girls loved it. I think we went back for more 5 or 6 times. (There were 6 of us and it was so good.)

  14. I really must buy that cookbook. I especially love cookbooks with the history of the recipe added to it. Thank you for sharing this information with us and thank Grandpa George for giving the book to you.

  15. Hey, Minna,

    Wow, these dishes sound wonderful. I like the idea for left over mashed potatoes.

    Isn’t the internet great so that we can exchange all these ideas?

  16. Wow Patt! I will let Grandfather George know. And your family will really like the book because there is so much more there that I simply don’t have the time to go into.

    It’s a fascinating book and I know you’ll love it. 🙂

  17. Hi Patricia!

    Yeah, fry bread — a reservation meal — in the past it was corn used usually — and fermented or soaked in wood ash — but I gotta admit that I, too, love fry bread. 🙂

    How was your vacation?

  18. Hi Connie!

    I surely will let Grandfather George know — he went to visit his godson the next few days and do a sweat, but he’ll be back soon and I’ll let him know.

    Thanks. 🙂

  19. Isn’t the internet great so that we can exchange all these ideas?

    Oh yes, for many things, but for some things -like teaching you how to pinch and make neat pleats along the edge of the Karelian pasties- you need someone to show you how it’s done. Of course, with the help of the internet you might find that someone.

  20. Had a great trip to NH and NY. My husband and son left for a blacksmith conference in Dayton, Ohio. I’ll drive up Sat. and on Sunday our son will head home and DH and I head for a few day in OK to visit my aunt and see the Cherokee museum. We have an AF reunion in Ft. Worth, TX Oct.1 to 3. We’ll then spend a week in the San Antonio area doing our history thing. We’ll take a few days to drive home and get back to work. This will be the real vacation and we’re both looking forward to it.

  21. Oh, Patricia, you vacation sounds wonderful. Must admit that I have a love for Texas and I really hope that you have a fun time there. Don’t really see how you couldn’t. My, but you’re a long way from home.

    What fun!

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