field notes ➤ S. Alice Callahan, 1891

Some Indian Dishes

“What have you there, Wynema?” asked Genevieve Weir of her pupil one evening as she stepped into the “cook-room” and found Wynema eagerly devouring a round, dark-looking mass, which she was taking from a corn-shuck. All around the wide fire-place sat Indian women engaged in the same occupation, all eating with evident relish.

“Oh, Mihia! It is blue dumpling. I luf it. Do you luf it?” she asked offering the shuck to Genevieve.

“I do not know what it is. I never saw any before. How is it made?” she made answer.

“It is meal beat from corn, beat fine, and it is beans with the meal. Shell the beans an’ burn the shells of it, an’ put it in the meal, an’ put the beans in an’ wet it an’ put it in a shuck, an’ tie the shuck so tight it won’t spill out an’ put it in the water an’ boil it,” the child replied, out of breath with her long and not very lucid explanation.

“What makes the dumpling so dark?” asked the teacher, eying the mass which she held in her hand, rather curiously.

“That is the burn shells; we burn it an’ put in the meal an’ it makes it blue. Goot! eat some, Mihia. It is so goot.”

Miss Weir took a small morsel of the dumpling in her mouth, for she was not prepossessed with its looks, and ate it with difficulty for it was tough and tasteless.

“No I don’t want any; thank you, dear, I think I don’t like it very well because I never ate any; I should have to practice a long time before I could eat blue dumpling very well;” and she smiled away the frown on the child’s brow.

Soon after this, supper was announced and the family gathered around a table, filled with Indian dainties.

There in the center of the table, stood the large wooden bowl of sofke, out of which each one helped himself or herself, eating with a wooden spoon, and lifting the sofke from the bowl directly to the mouth. This dish, which is made of the hardest flint corn, beaten or chopped into bits, and boiled until quite done in water containing a certain amount of lye, is rather palatable when fresh, but as is remarkable, the Indians, as a general thing, prefer it after it has soured and smells more like a swill-barrel than anything else. Besides the sofke, were soaked corn bread, which is both sour and heavy; dried venison; a soup with an unspellable name, made of corn and dried beef, which is really the most palatable of all the Indian dishes; and opuske, a drink composed of meal made from green corn roasted until perfectly dry and brown, and beaten in a stone mortar until quite fine; mixed with water.

Not a very inviting feast for Genevieve Weir, or indeed, for any person unaccustomed to such fare; but that the Indians, surrounding the board considered it such, was evident by the dispatch with which they ate.

And it is strange that, though always accustomed to such fare, the Indians are not a dyspeptic people. We of this age are constantly talking and thinking of ways and means by which to improve our cookery to suit poor digestive organs. How we would hold up our hands in horror at the idea of placing blue dumplings on our tables! And yet, we are a much more dyspeptic people than the “blue dumpling” eaters, struggle though we do to ward off the troublesome disease. ❞

Wynema: A Child of the Forest
by S. Alice Callahan
edited by A. Lavonne Brown Ruoff
(University of Nebraska Press, 1997)

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