Aboriginal New England Cuisine With Recipes

When the European invasion of New England started in the seventeenth century, the American Indian people of the region had a varied and savory cuisine. As farmers they raised a variety of crops, including many different kinds of maize (corn), beans, squash, pumpkins, and strawberries. They supplemented these foods with wild foods obtained through hunting, fishing, and gathering. Many modern foods, such as corn bread, hominy, johnnycake, clam chowder, and others, have their origins in the aboriginal cuisine of New England.

Overall, the diet of the New England natives prior to the European invasion seems to have been healthier than that of the Europeans at the same time. Indian people consumed a great variety of different plants (both domesticated and wild) as well as fish, fowl, and meat. Among other things, food was freely shared. There were not some people who were undernourished while others were over-nourished. The better diet and the food sharing resulted in people who were often larger than the Europeans.  


Much of the cooking done by the New England Indians was done by boiling. In some instances they used clay pots with pointed bottoms that would be placed in the midst of embers. Sometimes they would boil water in a basket made from green bark which would be suspended over hot coals.

Like Indian nations in other parts of North America, the aboriginal peoples of New England also used stone boiling. In this method, rocks would be heated in the fire until they turned red. They would then be placed in a container of water. In a fairly short time, the water could be brought to boiling and it would be kept there by continuing to add hot stones. The containers used for stone boiling included not only pottery vessels, but also baskets and leather bags. Stone boiling appears to have been more common in the north, particularly in what is known as the state of Maine.

For many of the Indian people in New England, fish was an important food. At times fish was cooked on a flat stone set on a bed of coals. Clams would be set on edge around a hearth to roast until their shells opened.

In Maine, the Indians would bake clams in piles over heated rocks which had been covered and interlaced with seaweed. It was not uncommon for them to add corn and slices of fish to the steaming pile.

Corn Dishes:

Corn was the staff of life for New England natives and it was prepared in many different ways. One of the most common was to use ground corn to make samp, or newsamp, a kind of porridge. Both the early English and Dutch invaders found this to be a wholesome and tasty food.

Another common corn dish was pone or johnnycake. To make pone, mature corn would be pounded into a fine powder, then made into a dough with water or bear oil. It would then be made into cakes about an inch thick and baked in hot ashes. The baking might also be done on thin broad stones (probably soapstone) placed on the fire.  

In some instances corn pone was mixed with other ingredients to make appoon. In the late spring, the people would make strawberry bread, then in early summer they would make raspberry and cherry bread, and in the fall, blackberry, blueberry, and elderberry bread.

Dumplings would be made by taking the dough (which might be mixed with berries or chestnuts) and boiling it for about an hour (usually until the dough floated). These dumplings could then be added to a pot of stew.

Hominy was made by boiling the corn kernels whole.

Travelers would carry with them bags of corn which had been pounded into a fine meal. When they needed to eat, they would then mix it with a little water. Some of the early Europeans report that just a quarter pound of this travel food, mixed with water, would make a hearty meal.

Beans, Squash, Pumpkins:

Beans were nearly as important to the Indians as corn. Beans of many different colors and textures were used in many different ways and were added to many foods. Beans were mixed into the corn meal in making bread and they were added to stews and chowders.

Beans were also baked in earthen pots or beanholes.

Squash and pumpkins were incorporated into Indian cuisine both as a main dish and as an addition to bread, stews, and porridges. Pumpkins and squash were also dried so that they could be consumed during the winter. Pumpkin and squash seeds were considered a delicacy and would be eaten either raw or cooked. When dried and mixed with water, pumpkin and squash seeds were felt to have medicinal properties and were used in treating urinary problems.

Mohegan Succotash:

The oral history of the Mohegan tells that they came from “west by north” of another country, that they passed over great waters, that they had once lived beside a great body of water affected by tides, and from this they obtained their name – Muh-he-con-nuk – which means “great waters which are constantly moving”. They faced great famine and migrated toward the east where they found many great bodies of water, but none which flowed and ebbed.

As with other eastern tribes, corn was one of the principal foods of the Mohegan. Corn was prepared in a number of ways, including making hominy of the kernels and making a stew of beans and corn called succotash. Succotash is a basic American Indian dish. Among the Indian nations of the Northeast, succotash was kept simmering at all times so that any hungry visitor or family member could be fed.

Shown below is a contemporary recipe for Mohegan succotash:

4 ears of fresh sweet corn

3 to 4 cups of fresh lima beans (frozen may be substituted)

1 ½ cups of water

½ cup of butter (to be really authentic, you should use bear grease instead of butter)

1 ½ cups of sliced green onions

1 green and 1 red bell pepper, sliced and diced

With a large, sharp knife cut corn cobs into 1 ½ inch lengths. Place corn, beans, water, and butter (or bear grease) in a large saucepan. Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in green onions and peppers and continue to simmer for 6 to 10 minutes, until beans are tender and peppers are tender-crisp. Remove lid and cook over high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until liquid is reduced to about ½ cup.

About bear grease: bears were often hunted and their skins were tanned using a mixture of animal brains, bird livers, and fish oil. In addition, bear grease was applied directly to the body and in this way provided additional warmth in the winter and in the summer it served as an insect repellent.

New England Codfish Balls:

Hunting and fishing provided supplemental calories.   In the summer, fishing was done in the ocean and in the winter along freshwater streams and ponds. The fish were dried by placing them in the sun or over smoky fires. One of the important fish to the Indians was cod.  Shown below is a contemporary recipe for Aboriginal New England Codfish Balls:

1 ½ pounds fresh codfish

3 cups raw, peeled, diced sweet potatoes (or regular potatoes)

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill


Oil for deep frying

Place fish, potatoes, salt, and pepper in water to cover in a large saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and drain well. Stir in dill and mash or puree. Shape into 2- or 3-inch balls. Roll in cornmeal. Heat oil to 375 F. Fry codfish balls for about 1 minute, until golden brown. Remove from oil, drain well, and serve.

American Indian Heritage Day: 11/26 Let’s Eat!


photo credit: Aaron Huey

This coming Friday, November 26th, the day after Thanksgiving is American Indian Heritage Day.

Below you’ll find a few American Indian recipes and some of my adaptations of them for you to try and celebrate with us.

100_8061IMG_3029Mutton Stew with Blue Corn and Dry Bread

There are a lot of online resources for traditional American Indian recipes. I’d like to share with you my modern adaptation of many traditional ingredients and share my photos of the finished dish.

First I’d like to start with my specialty, Cedar Planked Salmon from our relations in the Northwest.

I make this almost every other evening since it is so healthy.

IMG_3388Start with soaking cedar or alder planks for at least one hour. I prefer cedar over alder for the flavor it gives to the salmon. I prefer the thin planks and use only one time. (I save the charred plank to start the next fire. We have this dish so often that I always have a plank soaking.)

IMG_2933Build a really kick-ass wood fire and don’t use briquets, bleeck.

100_8061Drain water from plank. Salt and pepper the plank and place salmon on top, salt, pepper and sprinkle a thick layer of brown sugar on top of the salmon.

IMG_2936Level out the hot coals

IMG_2938Place the plank with salmon directly on the grill and close the lid, do not peek or the internal temperature won’t rise.  I remove my salmon when the thermometer reaches a little over 500 degrees, takes between 9 and 20 minutes depending on weather factors.

IMG_2939Remove finished charred plank and now lovely smoked salmon from grill, it’s easier to remove from plank after it has rested a short time in a warm place in your kitchen.


I serve over a healthy dark green salad or…


with roasted vegetables

Here is the old school way of smoking salmon, I’ve not tried this yet. ;)

salmon ready for smoking

Photo: John Brouwer 2006



Now that you have a bunch of left over turkey, try my invention.


Pumpkin soup with roasted turkey thigh and fresh sage chiffonade.  

Use any squash or pumpkin.  I prefer butternut squash, cut squash in half and roast until tender. Scoop flesh from shells and set aside. Sauté chopped yellow onions in olive oil, salt and pepper. The more browned the more flavor you’ll get. Add chicken or vegetable stock and the squash. Blend with one of those mini boat motors or I think it’s called a blending stick. Top with turkey and I like a fresh sage chiffonade for garnish.

My proportions are something like this:

1 butternut squash

2 large onions, just enough olive oil to prevent sticking and to brown properly

1 liter of stock



Another adaptation of mine is grass fed lamb tenderloin with fresh rosemary grilled over hardwood coals:


Coat the tenderloins in olive oil and lots of fresh chopped rosemary, salt and pepper and grill


Served with roasted organic red onions and yukon gold potatoes with arugula garnish



Yes, I’m a carnivore… We also enjoy the occasional buffalo strip loin steak:




And finally for my dishes, Navajo Mutton Stew.

Mutton Stew with Blue Corn and Dry Bread

My version uses lean lamb chunks roasted with chopped onions, deglazed with good ole water, seasoned with Tibetan Pink salt and black pepper, dried blue corn that has been soaked overnight.  Simmer for 3 hrs or until corn splits then add Yukon Gold potato chunks and cook for another 20 to 30 mins. Serve with dry bread for soaking up all the broth. YUM.


My last score and haul from visiting my relations on the Navajo rez.

I consulted my Native American Netroots team members and below are their contributions. Aji had many ideas but I decided not to bug her for this diary since she is so busy.




I had to include this comment from Deep Harm:

I’m interested in all Native American cooking, but am most familiar with the

cuisine of the tribes in New Mexico, so a “favorite” would be from that area.  I

love just about any dish made from chiles, blue cornmeal, posole or bison.  But,

stews are my favorite, particularly the green chile stews popular along the Rio

Grande. I love the bread baked in Taos Pueblo’s beehive ovens, too, but I’m

guessing that is hard to replicate in a typical kitchen.  

I don’t have any specific recipes to offer, other than Greg Palast’s Recipe for a Cooked Election, describing how the votes of Native Americans ‘disappeared’ in

the 2004 election.  But, that one’s not very palatable.




didja ever eat wojapi? It’s a favorite around here at all feasts (or ‘feeds’ as the media calls them). It’s a simple pudding best made out of choke cherries but we use any canned commod fruit in a pinch. Frybread dipped in wojapi is the best. But since 3/5’s of all modern food comes from our ancestors native cuisine includes almost everything. CC

Very Basic Wojapi (Makes about 1 pint)

2 cups of dark fruit/berries (Wild Choke Cherry, plum, sand cherry, currant, buffalo berry, or grape. All wild, all found on the Great Plains.)

1/2 cup sugar or honey

1/8 cup water

In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, combine fruit, sugar or honey and water.

Simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Serve immediately or, if using cherries or plums, allow the sauce to cool to room temperature before removing any pits or seeds. Then rewarm to serve with hot frybread.

This fry bread video demo is from the Navajo Nation:

There are a zillion fry bread recipes for you to try.  

I prefer to grill it over hardwood coals to reduce the calorie content. We call it dry bread.


Here’s an idea I stole from the Tuscans, a grill in my fireplace with my dry bread grilling:





Ojibwa has a food dedicated diary entitled: What’s for Dinner: An American Indian Feast

Here is one sample recipe from his diary:


Hidatsa Pumpkin:

   (additional comments and clarification have been added throughout by Ojibwa’s wife, who has used this recipe–)

   1   4- to 5-pound sugar pumpkin

   2 teaspoons salt

   ½ teaspoon dry mustard

   1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or rendered fat

   1 pound ground venison, buffalo, or lean beef

   1 medium onion, chopped

   1 cup wild rice, cooked (or brown and wild rice)

   3 eggs, beaten (or egg beaters or egg whites)

   1 teaspoon crushed dried sage (the cooking kind)

   ¼ teaspoon pepper

   Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut the top from pumpkin (like you would for a jack o’lantern) and remove seeds and strings from cavity. Prick cavity with a fork all over and rub with 1 teaspoon of salt and the dry mustard. Heat oil in large skillet. Add meat and onion and sauté over medium-high heat until browned. Off the heat, stir in wild rice, eggs, remaining salt, sage, and pepper. Stuff pumpkin with this mixture. Place ½ inch of water in the bottom of a shallow baking pan.

   Put pumpkin (and the lid) in the pan and bake for 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Add more water to the pan as necessary to avoid sticking. When done, bring to table with lid askew on top of pumpkin at a jaunty angle-it looks really nice. Cut pumpkin into wedges, giving each person both pumpkin and stuffing. ( The skin is tough and bitter and should not be eaten, but the flesh of the pumpkin will scrape away easily.)

   This would also make a good vegetarian recipe by leaving out the meat. It can be rather bland, however, and you may wish to add additional seasoning and cook your rice in a vegetable broth or stock instead of water.

   The pumpkin seeds you pulled out can be toasted for a snack.




When I was a kid, we used to eat the occasional alligator that my grandfather and his brothers hunted. But I have no recipe. I think my grandma just cooked them in recycled lard the same way she cooked catfish.

Tasty, but rough on the arteries.

Raw alligator meatAlligator meat frying

Fried alligator

Seminole Alligator Wrestlers

Alligator meat for sale
if you don’t

feel like hunting one down.

Seminole Alligator Wrestlers from the 1940s (Randle/Sheffield)