American Indian food (Food in American History Series) by Linda Murray Berzok

By Linda Murray Berzok

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Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division (reproduction number: LC-DIGppmsca-02937). Major Tribes. Apalachee, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Guale, Muskogean, Natchez, Seminole, Timucuan. Culture: Farming Supplemented by Gathering-Hunting. Domesticated maize became an important resource between ad 800 and 1350. There were three subsistence areas in the Southeast—one coastal and two types of “shifting” maize agriculture (requiring periodic shifts of residence to cultivable land), supplemented by hunting and collection of wild plant foods.

This helped reinforce feelings about the sacred and symbolic importance of food for which gratitude should be expressed. The life-giving plants became the subjects of many ceremonies, ritual plantings, harvest festivals and feasts. Relying on the vigor of a handful of crops (rather than the diversity of items gathered and hunted) made the people vulnerable to vagaries such as drought, crop failure and raids from other tribes. Although there was some malnutrition, disease, starvation and famine, sometimes leading to death, on the whole agriculture was a giant step forward.

The tribes of California, the Great Basin and the Plateau were all forager-hunters. California. In the interior, acorns were the staple. They were ground into meal, leached out with water to remove the tannic acid, then boiled to make mush or baked into unleavened bread. Second in importance were wild plants used as greens and for their seeds; the smaller seeds were parched and then ground into meal. Also vital for sustenance was small game, rodents and birds, plus invertebrates such as worms, grasshoppers and caterpillars.

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