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In the land of plenty — Buffalo Nations

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Veronika Ederer Photo Buffalo soup with berries.

By Veronika Ederer

Special to the Daily

Record

Stereotype or not — of course, there could be no cookbook on Native American recipes without bison. The Plains chapter in my upcoming cookbook should at least have a few recipes with that famous ingredient.

My “bison-history” started in 2005, when I finished my dissertation in Frankfurt along the river Main and rewarded myself with a one week trip to Washington D.C. to visit the National Museum of the American Indian. I remember scratching all my money together to pay for the flight and my stay at a worn-down youth hostel. I discovered the Mitsitam Native Foods Café in the museum, and decided to have my lunch there every day. One of the first dishes I chose was a buffalo chili stew with cornbread — I was so excited about my first culinary buffalo encounter.

Back home in Germany, I discovered that there were already buffalo breeders in Germany, but buying buffalo meat was not as easy as one would think. Since bisons aren’t native to Europe, there are certain regulations in place, which differ in every country. In the countries where it was permitted to raise them for meat, the breeders had to qualify for slaughter on the pasture because you really can’t drive a bison in a trailer to the slaughterhouse. The closest breeder I found was in eastern Germany, so I couldn’t just drive there — at the time I didn’t have a car — I ordered only once a small amount of fresh meat to be sent by mail. I froze it and only used small quantities on special occasions until it was gone.

In 2009, I moved to Switzerland to work as a museum educator in the North American Native Museum in Zürich. In 2010, the museum planned to start an exhibition about the special relationship between Native American tribes and animals like horses, porcupines, seals — and of course, bison. A colleague and I were sent to southern Alberta, Canada to do research on Appaloosa horses and bison. During these 10 days, we visited — among others — Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. My colleague — being an expert in teepees of the Plains tribes — was interested in spending a night in the teepee village of Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, and I agreed. Since we didn’t have sleeping bags with us, we rented everything from the park. Spending a night in a teepee at the end of September — it was raining the entire 10 days — would have been a cold experience, but we had the rented mats, pillows and sleeping bags, additionally, each of us got a buffalo hide. I remember that I was so fascinated by the buffalo hide that I could hardly sleep that night, and in the morning, I decided to buy one in Switzerland — whatever it would take. During the research tour, I sampled buffalo burgers wherever I could get them. Burgers were the only menu item of the museum diners with buffalo meat. A member of the Siksiká Nation that we met jokingly said that I would probably turn into a “buffalo woman.”

We arrived in Switzerland in October, and I immediately renewed searching for buffalo breeders, this time in Switzerland. Through the museum, I was able to obtain a traditionally tanned buffalo hide, and in my supermarket, I found buffalo meat. But I didn’t like the idea of eating imported meat from Canada because bison were raised here, too. Time went on and I only found information on the internet about breeders who had given up raising bison because it was either too expensive or the bison escaped and had to be put down before crashing into cars on the highway. In late January 2011, I finally found a breeder, about an hour and a half away from my home. The business is called Wood and More. Lucky for me, the breeder — who is also a professional carpenter — sells meat, hides, robes, skulls and even furniture, though only once a year. Unlike 2005, I had now a secure job and a car. I drove to Wood and More at the village St. Gallenkappel and returned with four bags of meat, jerky and sausages.

I introduced a lot of friends and colleagues to this specialty meat; I cooked bison recipes for guests and brought them jerky as presents. Ever since, I return every year to buy meat for my friends and myself. About 200 to 300 people visit annually for a barbecue, to see the animals and the beautiful surroundings.

When we decided to create a cookbook, it was obvious that we would have some bison recipes in our chapter on the Great Plains. We also have dishes with vegetables, chicken, fish and fruits in that chapter. It came down to four recipes: soup, a crockpot bison recipe, squash filled with minced meat, and spare ribs. My buffalo hide, which is also very popular in my school classes, served as background for three of the four recipe photos. Of course, if you don’t have bison on hand, you can use beef as a substitute in the following recipe, but the cooking time takes longer using beef.

Did I make you hungry? Here is my recipe for buffalo berry soup. It’s delicious when served steaming hot with a nice slice of fry bread.

Buffalo soup with berries

Ingredients:

1/2 lb bison meat or beef, cubed

1/3 cup bacon, in cubes

2 green onions, chopped

1/2 cup blueberries or blackberries

1 1/2 cup of beef broth

1 Tbsp honey or maple syrup

Salt & pepper

Preparation:

Fry the bacon cubes in a deep pot until they are light brown, add the meat and stir until meat is brown.

Add the broth, green onions and honey or maple syrup and let the soup simmer on a low setting for about one hour, stirring occasionally.

Season with salt and pepper.

Add the berries 10 minutes before serving and stir occasionally.

Serve with fry bread or bread.