There will many food vendors at the annual Grand River Pow Wow this year. People travel from all over Canada and the United States to set up food booths with a wide range of mouth-watering options to satisfy your appetite.
You can find traditional Haudenosaunee cuisine on the Pow Wow menu, and a wide variety of delicious contemporary meals. In the pre-Contact era, the Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois as they are known to the Europeans) whose territory the Grand River Pow Wow is held, ate a variety of homegrown and homemade food items. Some of these include, wild rice, beans, maple syrup, potatoes, berries, corn, beans, squash, cornbread and corn soup which is made from lyed white corn, and various types of meat which was prepared in different ways including: roasted, dried (jerky) and boiled (poached). These meats included: venison, rabbit, moose, elk, beaver and many different types of fish found in the Grand River and surrounding lakes as well.
With the high numbers of diabetes and obesity in many First Nations communities across Canada and the U.S., there has been a movement to go back to that traditional culinary lifestyle of eating healthy nutritious food. And many traditional pow wows do have potluck dinners where the community provides the food at no extra cost. These dinners usually include healthy food such as wild game, beans and leafy green salads.
The nature of food sales at pow wows means vendors usually have to cook something that is quick to make. Today that usually consists of what is known in the Indigenous community as frybread, bannock or scones.
Contrary to popular belief, frybread is not a traditional Native American food as First Nations people never had white flour, white sugar, white rice, white salt and white or refined oils. These foods were brought over with the first Europeans and introduced into Indigenous cuisines.
Frybread is made from a mixture of white flour, baking powder, salt and water, although some recipes will substitute water for buttermilk which makes the bread fluffier and lighter and many will say tastier as well. The dough is then cut into sections and flattened with a rolling pin. Some recipes will call for the dough to rest for a few minutes to allow the baking powder to raise the dough to the desired level. The flattened dough is then submerged in hot oil for a few minutes on each side, long enough to cook through and get both sides golden brown.
The frybread is then taken out, placed in a dish and left to cool down. Once it has cooled down but still warm it is ready to eat. But sometimes this is only the beginning as frybread is used in various dishes. It can go along side a steaming hot bowl of soup, which is perfect on that cold winter day. Or you can cut it in half and place meat in the middle and eat it as a sandwich. It is also the staple ingredient in what is known as ‘Indian Tacos’ or as our southern cousins call it, “Navajo Tacos’. The frybread is used as the base, a chili-like sauce is placed on top of that, and fresh vegetables such as chopped lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers and onions placed on the very top with a dollop of sour cream to make it complete.
Although frybread is not a staple traditional food in any Native American community on Turtle Island, it is still a big part of the culture and diet. And it’s a tasty treat to have every once in a while. We at the Two Row Times, hope you enjoy the food at this years’ Grand River Pow Wow. See you there!