Indigenous Foods and Recipes

Have you ever wondered what kind of foods were consumed by Native Americans? While many people believe that Native Americans were exclusively hunter-gatherers, by the time of European contact many groups practiced agriculture. The most commonly grown food items were beans, corn, and squash, which were called the Three Sisters. These staple crops were supplemented by hunting and gathering. Animals like venison and wild birds were hunted on land, but fish and shellfish may have been even more important sources of food. Other food items included nuts, berries, and various wild plants. Many of these foods were seasonal, for example fiddleheads can only be harvested for a short period of time in the early spring. 

Many of foods and ingredients that we take for granted were unavailable to Indigenous people prior to contact. There were no cows in the Americas meaning that Indigenous people did not have access to dairy products like milk and butter. They also lacked white sugar, using maple syrup and honey as sweeteners instead. Refined wheat flour was also a European introduction but cornmeal and flours made from crushed nuts were used to make hearty cakes. Rendered animal fats, often bear fat, were used in place of oils. Below you will find three traditional recipes and two modern adaptations of traditional recipes.

The following recipes have been adapted from issues of the Aln8bak news and Paul Pouliot’s Cowasuck Cookbook.

Three Sisters (Wawicakasotijik)

Adebakwal – Skamonal – Wasawal

Like many cultures around the world the Abenaki celebrated a harvest festival in the fall.  The “Three Sisters” would be ready for the feasts of this time.  Much has been documented about the planting and importance of the three plant types and importance of their cultivation to food supplied worldwide.  This is a simple preparation that may have been used for generations.

 1 Cup Wild or Brown Rice (Menomenal),

3 Cups Soup Stock – Chicken or Vegetable (Gez8bo),

2 Cups Beans – Pinto, Red Kidney, Black, White, Pink, or any other type (Adebakwal),

2 Cups Corn – fresh (Skamonal),

2 Cups Squash, cut into 1″ cubes (Wasawal), 

1/4 Cup Sunflower (Gizosk8ganal) Oil (or Butter) (Wiz8wibemi),

Salt (Ziwan) to taste. The verb “to add Salt” is  Ziwanahigamek).

Traditionally, a pot would always be at the fire with something boiling in it.  A soup stock of vegetables, fowl, and other game would be constantly simmering, waiting for the addition of new ingredients. For this recipe a store bought chicken or vegetable broth can be used in place of a homemade stock.

Heat the stock in a large pot until boiling, and salt to taste. Add the rice to the boiling stock, stir, cover, and reduce heat to allow the rice to be steamed.

Traditionally wild rice but any natural, long grain brown or wild rice will do.  These rices take longer to cook so be patient. Check occasionally to make sure the heat is not too hot.  In about 20-30 minutes the rice will have absorbed most of the stock during the cooking process. 

Stir in the beans, corn, and squash. Cover and continue to heat for 20-30 minutes. Check occasionally to see if the rice is fully cooked and salt to taste. When the rice is fully cooked add sunflower oil (or butter) – fluff rice before serving. Serve hot as a side or main dish – Serves 6-10 

It is fine to use canned corn and beans, but for best results use a few different types.  Try a mixture of ingredients. A few suggestions are below:

Beans – Pinto, Red Kidney, Navy, Black, Pink, White

Corn – Yellow, White, Butter & Sugar, Shoe-Peg, etc

Squash – Summer, Butternut, Acorn, Pumpkin, Zucchini


Stew (M8wikisoak)

Literally translating to “they are cooked together” m8wikisoak is an end of the year (macigaben) pot stew.  In the Abenaki calendar the end of the year would be fall sometime during March or April. With winter drawing to a close, people would be running low on food reserves.  A stew pot would be boiling with bits and pieces of bones, meat scraps, corn, beans, rice, and roots.  This is a simple “left-overs” meal that allows for a wide variety of ingredients. M8wikisoak is a great platform for experimentation so feel free to change around ingredients as you see fit. A suggested recipe is as follows:     

2 Quarts Water (Nebi),

2-3 pounds Meat & Bones (Beef soup bones, stew beef, beef, buffalo, venison, lamp bones, and other scrap meats),    

1 Cup Rice – Wild Rice (Menomen),

1 Cup Beans (Adebakwal) (dry – several different varieties),

2 Cups Carrots (Galodak) (course cut – un-peeled),

2 Cups Potatoes (Badadesak) (small course cut – un-peeled),

2 Cups Onions (Winozak) (course cut),

1 Teaspoon Pepper (Dipwabel),   

2 Teaspoon Salt (Ziwan).

Use a large stock pot (8 quarts).  Add water, meat, and bone scraps.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.  If you use wild rice and dry beans they can be added at this time.  Continue to simmer for 1+ hour.  Add the root vegetables and continue to cook another 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and cooked.  Additional water or beef stock may be added if the stew becomes too thick or if you want it thinner.  Add salt and pepper to season to your tastes.   Serve hot with bread – Makes enough for 4-8.    


Hazelnut (Bag8nizab8nak) Cakes

During the winter months the Abenaki subsisted off of items that were harvested, dried, and stored in the Fall.  Various nuts, fruits, vegetables, and corn could be stored easily for the colder months. This recipe combines nuts and corn to create a nutritious food that keeps for a long time.  Hazelnuts, in particular, are rich in protein and unsaturated fatty acids. Rendered animal fats, often times bear, would have been used in place of cooking oils.  Salt would not have been used traditionally but other plant ashes and herbs may have been used for flavoring.    


½ Pound Hazelnuts (Bag8niz),

2 Cups Water (Nebi),

⅓ Cup Corn Meal (Skamonnoktahigan),

½ Cup Cooking Oil (Wiz8wibemi),

1 Teaspoon Salt (Ziwan).

Use a blender to grind or puree the hazelnuts. A mortar and pestle would have been used traditionally but this is a very time consuming process.  Boil the water and add the ground-up hazelnuts.  Boil for 15-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the mixture is like mush or an oily paste.

Mix in the corn meal (and salt to taste) to make a uniform mixture.  Let the mixture stand, until it thickens, this should take about 10-15 minutes.

While the mixture stands,  heat the oil in a large skillet until hot.  It will be hot enough if a drop of water instantly sizzles on the surface of the oil. Once the oil is hot enough, take a tablespoon of the nut mixture – drop the spoonful into the hot oil.  Brown well on one side, then turn it over and flatten with a fork or spatula to form a mini-cake.   Brown evenly on both sides.  Serve hot or cold.  Makes 12-14 small cakes. 

Salmon Burgers

Seafood was an incredibly important food source for New Hampshire’s indigenous people. While fish and shellfish were available throughout much of the year, during the spring many species of fish migrate upriver to spawn. The various fish runs and migrations meant that fish were very plentiful along the Connecticut, Merrimack, and Kennebec River watersheds at this time of year. The salmon was probably the most sought after because of its large size and flavorful meat. This recipe is a healthy and delicious alternative to beef hamburgers.

1 pound canned Salmon(Mkwamaga), drained and flaked

1 Egg (W8wan) lightly beaten

1 Cup Corn Meal(Skamonnoktahigan) or Corn Meal Stuffing

½ Cup Green Onion(Winoziz)(finely chopped),

¼+ Cup Corn Oil(Bemi) or another high-heat oil

Salt(Ziwan) to taste

Pepper(Dipwabel) to taste

 Use a large bowl beat the egg slightly with a folk or whisk, and add a little salt and pepper. Drain the juice from the canned salmon and save if needed.  Break the salmon into flakes and smaller pieces. Chop the green onion into small pieces.  Add the salmon, corn meal, and green onions into the egg mix. Work the mixture by hand and form into firm patties.  If it is too dry add some of the drained salmon juices.  If it is too loose to make patties add more corn meal. This should make about six Salmon Burger patties. 

Use a large fry pan or skillet to heat the oil.  Adjust the amount of oil as needed to cover the bottom of the pan with about  ¼ inch of oil.  Heat over a medium heat.  Fry the Salmon Burgers for about 10 minutes, turning once to brown on both sides. Serve on a bun with the toppings of your choice. 

Makes 4-6 Salmon Burgers

Maple Syrup Pie

This recipe is the result of cultural exchanges between the Abenaki people and French Canadian settlers. It combines a basic custard pie with maple syrup. Maple syrup pie was often eaten at the Abenaki New Year and celebrates their love for maple syrup.  As the Abenaki moved out of England(whether by force or free will) they brought the recipe with them. When they settled in different places with French relations, the nuts used in the recipe changed to reflect local taste and availability. 

3 Eggs Slightly beaten Eggs (w8wanal),

1 Cup Maple Syrup (zogalimelases),

½ Cup Brown Sugar (packed) (zogal),

2 Tablespoon Butter (melted) (wiz8wibemi),

2 Tablespoon Flour (nokigan),

1 Teaspoon Vanilla,

½ Cup chopped Butternuts (bag8nal), Walnuts (bedeg8menoziak), or Pecans

Dash of Salt (ziwan),

1 9″ Un-baked Pie (bata) crust.

Beat the Eggs slightly.  Melt the Butter. Then add Eggs, Butter, and mix in the Maple Syrup, Brown Sugar, Flour, Vanilla, and Salt.  Beat until smooth with an electric beater.  Chop the Butternuts, Walnuts, and or Pecans, (your choice of nuts).  Stir the chopped nuts into the mixture.  Prepare a 9″ pie crust, use a pre-made shell or use pre-made dough.  If you like you can make a pie shell from scratch, (your choice).  Fill the un-cooked pie shell (no top needed).  Pre-heat the oven to 350̊F, bake pie about 40 minutes.  Let cool until room temperature.  Chill in refrigerator to set before serving.  Serve cold.  Serves 8

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