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How Indians Cooked their Food

Most of the first Americans liked their food well cooked. They wanted it done. At the same time they wanted it to have a good flavor, and overcook­ing was apt to ruin this. (I have tried to eat some game that I wished had been ruined entirely.) The Indians prized a good cook, and always praised her. Their way was not to grumble over poor cooking but to praise the good. . The Indian woman had only a few simple utensils to assist her in her art. Nevertheless she knew how to cook meat and vegetables to a turn. One favorite way was to cover game,-fish, fowl, rabbits and the like,­with clay, well worked and spread on two fingers thick, care being taken that no part of the creature, even a bit of hair, stuck out. Fish were not scaled, birds were not plucked, save for the larger feathers, but their heads and wings were removed. Sometimes the game was dressed and stuffed with pot herbs, but sometimes not. The clay­wrapped tid-bit was then placed in the embers, being covered with ashes and glowing coals.

A good fire was now built over the mound and the cooking was continued for an hour or so. When the roast was taken f rom the embers the clay was broken with a stick and pulled off, the fur, scales or feathers coming with it, leaving a dish fit for any epicure.

Indians, who had clay kettles, pot-roasted their meats, the pot being heaped around with embers and covered with a flat stone. Frying in deep fat was done in a clay pot. I have dug up scores of these ancient cooking vessels, and thousands of pieces of them, with the charred grease still sticking to them. The greases used were those of the deer, bear and buffalo, though there were vegetable oils made of nuts and sunflowers.

Meat could be boiled, of course, and in the form of soup it formed a common food. Cured meats, as dried venison, bear meat, buffalo, fish and even oysters and clams were pulverized and boiled with suitable vegetables.

Boiling could be done in skin or bark utensils, or even on a clay bed, by filling with cold water, dropping in the meat and then heating with hot stones taken from a near-by fire. It was safer to boil in a bark dish than in a clay pot, because of the ease with which the pot was broken. One hot stone gives off a great deal of heat, and a dozen or so used in this manner soon finishes the task of hot-stone cooking.

Meat was stuck on spits and roasted before an open fire, the spits being turned to keep the process even. In this connection it is well to note that the Indians watched their pots, and that they did boil. They also watched all their cooking, it being considered a sign of a poor cook to ramble away and become interested in something else. There were several amusing talesabout people who forgot their meat, as the raccoon did when he went to sleep and let the fox eat his roasting geese.

A fireless cooker was commonly used for meat, beans, tubers and corn. A hole a foot and a half deep (knee deep) was dug and in it a fire was kindled. Gradually larger pieces of wood were put in until the pit was filled with glowing embers. More than this, the earth was heated a considerable distance beyond the surface. The hole was now quickly cleared, the meat or vegetables put in a pot, or suitably wrapped, and then the whole covered with ashes and hot embers. Sometimes a fire was built over the pit to keep the heat where it belonged. This fire might then die down, and the cook depart for a couple of hours. When he came back his dish was done, and done in a delicious way. It had cooked slowly and in its own juices. Indians like beans and corn on the cob cooked this way.