Heritage Site / Ethnography Site / Dakota Nakota Lakota / Food & Nutrition

Article: Hohe Food

As described by First Boy - James Larpentuer Long, Fort Peck Assiniboine-Sioux, in The Assiniboine: From Accounts of the Old Ones Told to First Boy (James Larpenteur Long), edited by Michael Stephen Kennedy , University of Oklahoma Press, 1961, p 78-84 (originally published as Land of the Nakoda by the Montana Writer Program in 1942)

There is an old Assiniboine saying, "The buffalo gives food from his flesh and clothing from his hide. The marrow, sinew, bones, and the horns can be used by the people, so that a skilled woman can make many different kinds of food and the family does not eat the same thing each day. It is so also with the man, who can make many things from the buffalo for use in war, hunting, and pleasure. All these things the buffalo offers to the ones who heed the talks of the old men and the old women who know that the lives of the people and the growth of children depend on the buffalo."

People were satisfied with meat as their main food. This was prepared in many ways. Often it was roasted over an open fire. A piece consisting of several ribs was stuck on a stick with the other end of the stick in the ground near the fire. The meat was turned over and over until cooked. Some preferred to have pieces of fat laid on the tip, so that it melted and ran down into the buffalo flesh to give it flavor.

Another method was to spread a piece of meat sliced thin on live embers until cooked.

Women also made much dried meat. To do this, a large piece of fresh meat was first cut almost through the center and sliced each way until it was much larger and very thin. This was then hung on poles and turned over each day until it was as dry as a bone. The cured meat was then packed away for future use. It was also mixed with rendered marrow, Packed in sacks made from dried bladders, and stored away. The dried meat was usually boiled until tender, but it could be eaten uncooked without preparation. Often it was toasted, then pounded into a pulp and eaten dry with a piece of tallow or fat.

Meat dried from parts of the rump and from the two pieces on each side of the backbone of the buffalo was considered best. This was made into a pulp and mixed with rendered marrow and pounded chokecherries to be served at feasts or ceremonial gatherings. It was called pemmican by the whites.

This story about the way men cooked meat was told by Last:

“Once, I was a member of a small war party that went on foot to the Piegan's country [near Glacier Park] . They were our enemies.

Before we entered their country, we rested one whole day, which was devoted to mending, looking over our equipment and various other things that needed attention. My cousin Red Feather suggested that I prepare a boiled meal, so I dug a hole in the ground about eighteen inches in diameter and twelve inches deep. I cut a piece of hide from the neck of a buffalo that we had just killed and lined the hole with it. I used pieces of buffalo ribs to peg the edges fast to the top of the hole and my pot was complete. I next filled it with water and placed pieces of different kinds of meat that each member wanted into the pot. I. heated five rocks, larger than a fist, red hot, and by using a buffalo shoulder blade, I slipped one rock at a time into the pot, each time taking out the cooled rock, until the fourth one was in and the water began to boil. I left that one in and followed with the fifth. Then the water boiled hard enough to cook the meat. After a time I took the meat out and put buffalo blood into the broth and, with two more rocks, I cooked a soup that we all enjoyed.

The women never cooked that way. It was a custom among men when they were away from home and wanted a change from the roasting method.”

Another story is told by Bad Hawk:

“My grandfather told how the men cooked buffalo ribs when they were out on trips. A hole about two feet square and a foot or more in depth was dug. Into that was laid a piece of ribs wrapped in green buffalo hide. This was then covered with dirt and a fire built over it.

The cooking was timed this way: When the first fire had died down to embers, a fresh pile of fuel was laid on, and when the last fuel was all burned, the meat was considered done. They called this method "ribs covered and cooked with two fires."

Buffalo tongues were a great delicacy. They were generally eaten on special occasions during feasts or served in guest lodges to the headmen while in council. Families also served them to invited guests to honor some member of the family. While buffalo tongue was considered a choice dish, hoofs cooked tender were looked upon as poor fare and eaten only when there was not much of anything else to eat.

A humorous story is told about this: A young man waited patiently to see his sweetheart one evening. Being uneasy, he tiptoed to the lodge and peeped in to see if the young lady was at home, as men never entered the lodges of their sweethearts. He saw her eating boiled hoofs, the poor food. After she had finished, she came out. As she wiped the perspiration from her face, she said, to his dismay, "Sorry to keep you waiting, I have just finished feasting on buffalo tongue."

In the latter part of May a plant similar to rhubarb was gath-ered, cut up in small pieces, and cooked with soup.

Wild turnips were rooted up with a pointed stick in the latter part of June and through July. Women both old and young, with the help of boys and girls, would spend a day at a time in gathering turnips. The boys and girls went ahead and located the turnip plants for their mothers, grandmothers, or sisters who made up the party.
It was a common sight to see two or more children run on ahead to find turnip plants for their old grandmothers, who per-haps could not see very well. The children vied with each other in finding the largest plants and took great pride in calling their grandmothers to view some especially large specimen.

Looking for turnip plants was often combined with visiting. Young women, in pairs, strolled about in search of the turnips and at the same time exchanged news and gossip of the camp. Oftentimes a young lady carried a message from her brother to the lady of his choice and delivered it during such a time.

Turnips were peeled and eaten raw or sliced and cooked into a soup, with pieces of fat added to give a rich flavor. The bulk of the turnips gathered were peeled, sliced, and spread out on hides on the ground and dried. After they were thoroughly dried, they were packed away for winter use. Sometimes a portion of them was pounded and stored in that manner. The cured tur-nips were boiled during the winter months very much as the white people cook dry beans. Being dry and hard, they took a long time to cook. Children often chewed them while at play.

Toward the end of the turnip season, juneberries were ready for picking, and all who were able helped with the task. Al-though men never helped with any household duties, it was no disgrace for them to pick juneberries, as there was always danger of bears being in the berry patches. So the men acted as escorts and sometimes helped pick the berries.

Juneberries were spread out on hides, dried in the sun, and packed away. The grandmothers usually tanned fawn skins for use as berry bags, the skins from speckle-backed fawns being the most popular. When cured, these skins were tanned with the hair left on, and all holes were sewed shut, except for one opening in the under side. The skin was filled and packed with cured berries and the opening sewed up. When completed, the bag resembled a stuffed fawn. It was then presented to a favor-ite grandchild,

Fresh juneberries were often rubbed into pounded dried tur-nips. The mixture was cured in the sun and stored for winter food.

Chokecherry-picking followed the juneberries. Some of the berries were dried unpitted as the juneberries were, and some were crushed between two rocks. To do this, a flat rock about eight inches in diameter was placed in the middle of a hide spread on the ground. A woman, seated with the rock directly in front of her, took a handful of unpitted cherries with the left hand. A few were poured on the rock, and crushed by a smaller rock made with a handle, which was held in the right hand. This process was repeated until the desired amount was ob-tained. The crushed pile was then made into patties and dried in the sun.

Cured cherries, unpitted or crushed, were cooked as a soup and flavored with fats. Only crushed cherries were mixed with tallow and allowed to harden. They were also mixed with dried and pounded buffalo meat and rendered marrow fat.

After the berry season there was a lull until the buffalo hunt-ing time in the early fall. During this quiet period, the old women picked ripe rosebuds. These were washed, mixed with tallow, and allowed to harden. The mixture was eaten with the regular meal. They also gathered buffalo berries, which were washed and dried. After meat was boiled and taken out of the kettle, a portion of dried buffalo berries was added to the soup, which was then brought to a boil.

Beverages were water, clear broth, and a tea brewed from dried juneberry leaves. No grain of any kind was used, and salt and spices were unknown to the early Assiniboines.