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Okanagan First Nations

hdrawing okanagan

 

Native Foods

by Sleem-Teuk (First Among Women)

Nature is very bountiful to her children, but they must live close to her heart to receive the plenty she willingly offers.  The paths of modern living lead us far from the wise generosity and careful protection of the great Mother.  Our steps stray beyond the circle of her watchfulness, and our minds are lured toward the fascinations of a new living.  The old people of my race shake their heads sadly.  “Gust, gust,” they say, “it is no good, it is no good.”

Today the food we eat is too soft.  We must eat it hard and strong to bring health.  There are many things my people eat without cooking, it is healthier so.  Other foods that cannot be eaten raw are cooked.  I will tell you about some of these.

When the sun’s path moves higher in the sky and its shadow falls shorter, then my people go into the hills looking for roots, which they call Speetlum (Cannaclae Esculenta).  They gather these roots when the plant is in bud because then they will peel easily.  When they are peeled, they are a clean hard white and ready for cooking.  The bloom of this plant is a small pink flower that looks a little like a rose and grows about four inches from the ground.  If you wish to get some you must be careful not to gather the roots of a plant, which is quite similar but has a yellow bloom.  These roots would make you ill, as they are poisonous.

My people gather many Speetlum roots then wash them ready for steaming.  A large wooden cooking pot is partly filled with cold water.  This pot is made of pinewood.  Now they build a large fire and put rocks on it to heat.  When the rocks are fairly warm they are put into the water in the cooking pot – this is meant to heat it.  Then these rocks are taken out and very hot rocks are put in, which brings the water to a boil.  Coarse parts of the rose bushes are laid over the rocks in the water and over this again are placed finer parts of the rose bush; these will prevent burning the Speetlum.  On top of the rosebush covering is placed grass that smells and tastes like celery (Tomatuum Mudicaule, Indian consumption plant).  This flavours the Speetlum and also prevents it from slipping into the water.  On this grass is placed as much Speetlum as the pot will hold, then a cover is put tightly over the top and is kept in place with rocks.  The Speetlum is left this way to steam for about ten minutes, and then is taken out and is ready for eating.  This food tastes very good and is a tonic for the blood.

Indian Potato (Claytonia Megarhiega) is cooked the same way as Speetlum.  It is found in the hills around White Lake, the Similkameen Valley and Inkameep Lake.  It looks much like a real potato but is smaller and lacks eyes.  It is ready to gather soon after Speetlum.

My grandmother used to make Skuleep and give me some as a special treat.  It is made from the long hair-like moss (Spanish moss) that grows on the fir tree.  This moss also grows on tamarack but has not the flavour that the other moss has, so my people do not gather from the tamarack tree.  My grandmother would separate this moss as you would card wool, then it was washed ready for cooking.  A hole was dug in the ground and in this she would put hot rocks and throw soil over the rocks; this would prevent burning the food.  Over this she placed fine grass and ba-haalp, a mat woven of bulrushes.  On this mat was placed a heaped up pile of Skuleep and to flavour this my grandmother covered it very thickly with Seeah (blueberries).  Another mat was placed above this again and above that mat more grass, soil and hot rocks.  This was covered with a thick layer of soil, about twelve inches, and a fire was built over this layer of soil.  Then grandmother dug holes on either side of this mound; these holes led directly down to the hot rocks beneath.  She poured about a gallon of water down each hole.  This turned to steam as soon as it touched the rocks and the steam passed up through the Skuleep.  This was left about twenty-four hours to cook.  The fire above was kept burning about four hours or more.  When the Skuleep was taken out, it had shrunk to about four inches in thickness and was flavoured all through with the blueberries.  You may be sure I was hungry for some, so my grandmother cut me a small piece.  It was so good I wanted more, but she would not let me have it.  She said only a little must be eaten at a time.  She cut most of what was left into small cubes and put them in the sun to dry.  These would be used during the winter.  Besides being a tasty food, Skuleep is also a good medicine.

 Other foods that are cooked the same as Skuleep are Stookum (Indian carrot) and Huleewa (Indian onion).  The Indian carrot is found high in the hills.  It is shaped like a carrot but is smaller and white.  When it is cooked, it turns brown.  It is sweet and has a most delicious flavour.  It is sometimes used to flavour Skuleep, but they prefer to eat it along since the flavour is so tasty.  Stookum is not found in large quantities and is not easy to dig.  My people find it when the sun is very hot (July).

 Huleewa, Indian onions, look like ordinary onions and bloom like them, but are not so large.  You will find them, usually, in sandy soil.  When Huleewa is cooked the tops of the onions are tied very closely together in a long string; they are easier to handle this way.  Both Stookum and Huleewa are tasty and very nourishing.

Now I have told you something of Indian foods.  If you wish health, go to the great Mother.  She has much to offer you in both health and happiness.