Iroquois are proud members of the North American Indian tribes who live in modern-day Ohio. Believed to have existed since the 1940s, Iroquois has established an outstanding form of society with exemplary government and military policies, intricate lifestyles, and rich culture. In this article, we’ll zoom in on their kitchens and cooking as we find answers to, “What did the Iroquois eat?”
Brief History of Iroquois
Iroquois belong to a large group of people formally called the “Iroquoian confederacy” which is comprised of six nations namely Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora.
The name Iroquois has a French origin that means “I have said..” in English. This relates to how Indians often end their statements with the said phrase. As time passed by, Iroquois was used to refer to the distinct language spoken by the six nations. Soon, it evolved to become a classification of people.
According to archeological records, the Iroquoian Confederacy was established by a prophet named “The Great Peacemaker” sometime around the 14th -16th century. The tribes belonging to the confederacy lived and ruled in Northern Americas.
Lifestyle and Culture of Iroquois
Like most American Indian tribes, Iroquois are very spiritual people. They believe and revere deities like the Great Spirit, the Thunderer, and the Three Sisters.
They hold ceremonies and rituals for farming, healing, and thanksgiving. Among all their 8 annual festivals, the Corn-Planting Festival, the Green Corn Festival, and the Corn-Gathering Festival are considered the grandest and most important ones.
On top of their well-decorated culture, the Iroquois are also known for their unique “long settlements” that measure up to 100 feet in length.
What did the Iroquois eat?
Iroquois produce their food through farming and agriculture. Men are tasked to clear and plow the lands while women take charge of planting and maintaining the crops.
Because of their deeply-seated spirituality, the crops they plant are very much connected to their beliefs. One great example of this is the Three Sisters which refer to corn, squash, and beans. They believe that good spirits flow into these crops that provide them life sustenance.
Apart from farming, Iroquois are prolific meat-eaters. They are extremely good hunters whose favorite preys are deer, bears, muskrats, wolves, turkeys, rabbits, beavers, ducks, and other birds.
Since they also live near rivers and coasts, they occasionally fish during the spring. Not only fish, but they also learned to enjoy turtles, lobsters, clams, and oysters.
While men hunt, the women are well-known gatherers. They maximize the abundance of berries, flowers, nuts, mushrooms, and other fruits in the surrounding forests.
They learned how to extract oil from the sunflower seeds which they use for cooking and medicinal purposes. Not only that, but Iroquois were also among the first people to appreciate the sweet and earthy flavors of maple sugar. This often gives them the “sweet tooth” description by archaeologists.
Modern Look at Iroquois’ Recipes
Now that we know what ingredients are often available to them, it’s high time that we explore their most famous recipes. Some of which are detailed below:
Corn Mush Soup Or The Three Sisters Soup
You can compare this Iroquois’ dish to the modern-day oatmeal. Corn mush is commonly prepared by boiling white corn (or hominy) together with squash, beans, and other vegetables in water.
This dish is quite important for Iroquois as it reflects their spiritual culture. Corn mush for the tribe represents the meal of the Three Sisters. This is often shared by families dwelling in their long settlements. During winter, Iroquois would leave a pot of simmering corn mush soup over fire all day to keep them warm.
Today, some modifications were made in the traditional recipes like adding chicken bouillon, butter, starch. These ingredients improve the indigenous recipe by enriching the flavor and thickening the soup.
There are records showing that North American dwellers like Iroquois have long been eating taco-like dishes. They usually make flatbreads, tacos, or tortillas using cornflour. The corn they harvested undergoes a long and tedious process of drying and grinding before it becomes corn flour.
Unlike modern tacos, Iroquois fill theirs with beans and squash mashed together. Through time, they learned to add meat and seasonings to this dish.
Ghost Bread or Corn Bread
This is another popular recipe among the Iroquois which is also prepared using cornflour. The batter is prepared by mixing flour, salt, and warm water until a smooth consistency is achieved. In some cases, the Iroquois add maple sugar to impart a sweet taste to the bread.
Afterward, it will be fried on a skillet until the bottom turns brown and crispy. Iroquois enjoy eating cornbread either warm or cold. They often eat it with vegetables or meat.
Modern improvements were also made to the bread like using all-purpose flour, baking powder, and milk.