By Veronika Ederer
Special to the Daily Record
People in German-speaking countries, such as Austria, Switzerland and, of course, Germany, are fascinated with the lore of America’s Northwest Coast, which is second only to the stories of the Plains and the Southwest. There was no question that the Northwest Coast should have a chapter in our cookbook, together with California. The Native Americans of this part of the U.S. are not well-known in Europe, neither is their food.
I was only in California once, for a few days during a four-week roundtrip that took me from San Francisco to Los Angeles, on to Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and back to the coast all the way up to Seattle. While working in the North American Native Museum in Zürich, Switzerland, I had the chance to go on a three-day trip to Vancouver and I remember that my time there was even too short for jet lag. I didn’t have time to explore the landscapes or Native American food traditions, but I bought my first cookbook with Wet’suwet’en recipes in Vancouver. The Wet’suwet’en are a First Nations people who live on the Bulkley River and around Burns Lake, Broman Lake and François Lake in the northwestern Central Interior of British Columbia. This would be a great start for recipes of this region and I was positive that I would be able to find more.
One of the first recipes — that actually had sparked the idea to create a Native American cookbook — was from the Suquamish Traditional Plants Program, which is a program supported by the Center for Disease Control using Native American food to prevent diabetes. Many Native American cookbooks feature recipes from Canada and the Southwest, including Northwest Coast recipes. I decided to include in my cookbook some salmon recipes such as soup, deviled eggs with salmon and salmon patties, since the ingredients would be easy to find in Europe. I also found a salad recipe with wild herbs, some special dressings and a recipe for making cranberry sauce. This was perfect since I discovered there were fresh cranberries available in a Swiss grocery store.
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My first excitement about the find faded quickly because those cranberries just tasted bitter. For a few weeks, I was good and added three or four cranberries each day to my morning cereals because I didn’t want to throw them away. Then I found the cranberry sauce recipe that included maple syrup and birch water. I prepared a large amount of the sauce, filled it up in glass jars and gave it away for Christmas. To add a historically accurate recipe to my cookbook, I included bannock — a wheat flour bread that was cooked in a pan. The recipe was popular among trappers and Native Americans alike.
While preparing the recipes I found, I continued to search for native California recipes. I knew that acorns play a vital part for Native Americans in the California region; and that they also hunted rabbits and wild game, that they used waterfowl and of course a lot of seafood in their recipes. But so far, I had only found one rabbit recipe that originated in the Great Basin, which included some information on California.
I searched the internet and found many ways on preparing acorns. This was when Swiss schools were out in fall. Luckily I am a teacher so I used the free time for walks along the river close to my village to collect acorns — a lot of acorns. Back home, I cleaned them and roasted them in my oven to crack the shells. After they cooled, I peeled them, chopped them in little pieces and cooked them for hours in a big pot of water to filter out the bitter tannin. Then I let them dry in my oven for a day, and finally, I was able to grind them in a coffee grinder. My friends just couldn’t believe that I spent so much time just to get acorn flour. I had no other choice since it was not possible to buy. I wrote down the instructions for the cookbook on how to prepare acorns because this could be a fun activity for families during fall.
Finally, I tried baking and mixing stews with the acorn flour, and as a result, the seafood chowder, a dish with wild game and acorn, rabbit stew, acorn bread and some acorn cookies became part of the chapter on Native American recipes of California. I included a juice made from blackberries, as well.
Just as the chapter on the Northwest Coast and California was finished, I discovered a really beautiful cookbook from a grassroots group of Native Americans in California. I was excited, but after reading the recipes, I knew that we couldn’t use any recipes from this book for our project. It mainly focused on recipes that included native California plants like nopales, mesquite flour and cholla buds. Even if it was possible for me to cook some of the recipes, for my readers it would have been too much effort because most ingredients are simply not available in Europe. So I only included a short comment about it in our book.
A restaurant, the Cafe Ohlone, which was part of the University Press Books store at the University of Berkeley, lost its location when the store closed its doors permanently due to the pandemic. The popular restaurant was the only place to sample traditional pre-contact Muwekma Ohlone Tribe (East Bay) of the San Francisco Bay Area cuisine. If it hadn’t been for COVID-19, I would have traveled to California this summer to find out more. (The owners are looking for a new location as of press time.)
Well, next year for sure. In the meantime, I’ll share one of the recipes with you that inspired the Native American cookbook — deviled eggs with salmon. Enjoy.
Suquamish deviled eggs
12 hardboiled eggs
2 oz. smoked salmon
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. mustard
1 ½ Tbsp. horseradish
Mild (or hot) chile powder, salt and pepper to taste
Fresh garden cress for garnish
Peel the hardboiled eggs and cut in halves with a sharp knife. Spoon the yolks in a bowl.
Cut the salmon in very small pieces and mix with the yolks. Add mayonnaise, mustard and horseradish and mix well. Season with salt, pepper and chile if desired.
Now fill the mixture carefully in the egg-halves. Garnish with fresh garden cress and let sit in the fridge before serving.
The Suquamish Tribe, of course, didn’t raise chickens but collected duck or seabird eggs to use in this recipe.
Ederer received her PhD from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in cultural anthropology. Originally from Germany, she has worked several years in Switzerland in museums such as the North American Native Museum in Zürich and with the gifted program “Universikum” in Zürich. Ederer’s cookbook about Native American recipes will be out in German this year.