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First Nations/Indigenous American Foods


My son's fourth grade class is celebrating "California Indian Day" on December 20th in Petaluma. I am one of the parent volunteers.

I am looking for simple recipes for Native American foods specific to the California area.

Taking a pass on "fry bread" and "Indian Tacos"

Any suggestions?

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  1. If you want real foods from pre-columbian times just think of the simplest way you can prepare any native food. Lots of steamed, grilled, and roasted stuff like fish and shellfish near the coast. Game birds like pheasant, etc. Deer, bear,. Also heavy foraging for wild edibles like burdock, cattail root, greens like young milkweed pods, mugwort, etc. and fruits of all kinds. I am not familiar with the exact southern west coast foods and tribes, but I could go on and on about plains and eastern tribes and their foods, and a little about south American.

    1. don't forget turkey or catfish!

      1. There is a website that I stumbled upon one day called nativetech. They have a section on food and recipes.


        You might find something there. They have divided recipes by region, which is nice.

        1 Reply
        1. re: tartetatin

          Most of the recipes on the Southwest ~ California recipe page call for ingredients that aren't native to this area.

          "California's abundant natural food resources provided ready access to a high protein diet of fish, acorns, small game, berries, insects, edible plants and roots ..."


          " ... the Sierra Miwok collected clover in the spring, seeds in the summer and mushrooms in the winter, with fruits and bulbs serving as their secondary foods. The Yurok fed largely on fresh salmon. Shellfish and sea mammals were popular with coastal dwellers, who harvested salt from seaweed. Grass seeds, grasshoppers, bees and worms were part of the regular Indian diet throughout much of the region. Delicacies included wood rat meat for the Cahuilla, salmon flies for the Wintu and Pandora moth chrysalises for the Northfork Mono. ... includes a few recipes like peppernut balls (to be eaten inside a thick bunch of sweet clover), mashed buckeyes and venison marinade."


        2. Up here in Canada, bannock is a traditional bread eaten by First Nations people. Don't know about California, though.

          How about Indian pudding?

          8 Replies
            1. re: FlavoursGal

              Bannock is a Scottish flat bread, typically made with oatmeal. Hard to get more Canadian than First Nations eating Scottish bread, eh?

              1. re: FlavoursGal

                Indian pudding was created by the British in Mass. in the 1600's They missed their rich puddings. Doesn't have much to do with Indians at all except that in the absence of wheat, they used Indian or corn meal as one of the ingredients. Native Americans didn't eat it.

                1. re: missclaudy

                  And California tribes didn't eat corn anyway.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I believe yes they did - at least along the Colorado River. And I dimly recall Sir Francis Drake encountering it when naming our state Nova Albion.

                    1. re: kare_raisu

                      Down around the Arizona border, probably so. I wasn't thinking of that part of the state.

                      I don't think Drake would have seen corn in what's now Marin County. The area was heavily forested and the climate's not very suitable. And I don't believe Northern California tribes practiced agriculture anyway.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        The ENTIRE Eastern US streching west to the Mississipi was densely covered with forest before 1607 -- do I need to use the squirrel anecdote? And the Iroqouis (sp) were notable for their maize.

                        1. re: kare_raisu

                          They practiced agriculture. The tribes in that area of California didn't.

              2. About a month ago we were lucky to stumble across a PBS marathon TV show called Seasoned with Spirit. The host (forgot her name) was herself a Native American Indian and each half hour episode was spent with a different tribe. The main focus was the foods they ate. One was in California. I believe that was the episode that focused on making flour and bread with acorns. It may have been more Northern California though.

                Great shows for those who like foraging.

                1. My wife's tribe (Owens Valley Paiute from the eastern Sierra) harvested pine nuts which were roasted and ground into flour and later reconstituted into cakes. Pine nuts are relatively available so this might be doable. Rabbit and other indigenous game meats were eaten so you could probably serve roasted meat. They also ate pandora moth caterpillars and brine fly larvae but I imagine these wouldn't be available at the local grocery. Native berries were eaten so if you can find a local source those might work. The Ownens Valley Paiute also harvested fresh water clams and I imagine other tribes as well so you might be able to swap out commercially available clams. Almost any native plant that is edible was likely consumed within its range, I know acorns were widely consumed and many plants were eaten as greens in early spring (the sierras are filled with wild onions which are alot like green onions which were eaten fresh and roasted).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: scott duncan

                    PiƱon / pinyon are a different variety of pine nut from the usual pignolia / stone pine.

                    Making acorn meal is a *lot* of work.

                  2. there is a wonderful glossy book put out by the Smithsonian Institute "Foods of the Americas" or something like that - maybe it's in your library...the recipes are very nice along with the history of salmon and religious practice etc.
                    They pull from all over the Americas, and top chefs/food historians.
                    a Zuni squash stew with corn and nuts comes to mind

                    1. Why you wanna "take a pass" on frybread? They eat it on the rez.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: wayne keyser

                        looking for a healthier food choice for the kids.

                        Also something not easy to prep on campus- stuff doesn't taste very good cold.

                        Frybread makes me think of spam (as in the kind in the can). Spam is a "fav" food around the Pacific Rim but I don't think it is a healthy food choice either.

                      2. Call the Rumsey or Jackson Tribal Office, not the casino, and ask them for a suggestion, go right to the source.

                        BTW, Fry Bread is a dough product, SPAM is some kind of meat. You can make fry bread with sugar and honey or you can make it as a meal with beans, ground beef and cheese, but you are right, it would not be good could if you choose the meat alternative to serving it.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                          Hello I know that SPAM is a kind of meat and Fry bread is a dough product. I used Spam as an example of a food that was not indigenous to a group of people but adopted later on with Anglo/European influence. Spam is a "delicacy" in much of the Pacific Rim especially Hawaii but is not indigenous to the Pacific Rim. Fry bread (wheat flour base) probably was not indigenous to North America as wheat was not initially cultivated in the Americas. Peanuts and okra are two examples of food that are not native to the Americas but have been incorporated extensively in regional cooking. Tomatoes are another example of a New World food that became an important part of European cooking. Hope this makes more sense.

                        2. oops tomatos not tomatoes:)!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: drmimi

                            You were right the first time. ;)

                          2. The great Apache warlord Geronimo used to eat a version of chili whenever he was in "captivity" (I think he surrendered two or three times). As I recall, the main difference between his and any other chili recipe was the inclusion of corn, honey, and chopped tomatoes (as opposed to sauce or paste). I made it once and it was quite tasty.

                            1. Since you're in Sonoma County, I'd suggest taking the kids out to Salt Point on the 19th or 20th. There's a minus tide and they can collect mussels and gooseneck barnacles there the way the coastal natives did. They can make a shell mound afterwards with the discards. Fishing licenses will be required for the adults.


                              More about local shell middens -

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                Thanks for the great suggestion- unfortunately too late to put together a field trip like this. In our school district we have to do parent transportation due to the lack of funds- hard to get 70+ + fourth graders from Petaluma to Salt Point without the bus:). But I can plan something cool for my son. I will pass the suggestion on to the teacher and principal- perhaps they can suggest this to parents for an after school activity.

                                I love the idea of the doing the shell mound. Shopping in Emeryville has not been the same since I learned that the Bay Center was built on top of an huge shellmound:)

                                1. re: drmimi

                                  In truth, taking just your son out there is a better idea than decimating the mussel population with 70 kids foraging. (g) The tidepools are really interesting this time of year because of the low, low tides during daylight hours. A friend who grew up in Petaluma has tales of mussels over a foot long pulled from the local rocks when he was a kid. I've not seen any bigger than about 4". The best eating ones --- sweetest and most tender --- are the ones about 2.5" long, I've found.

                              2. There was a thread a few months ago with some interesting information on Native American foods. Here's a link to it: