Native Food Information
Adapted from information shared by Gina Glaczko, Heard Museum

   Acorns
In the Western U.S., harvesting acorns is a tradition preserved and handed down to each generation. Acorns are available in some reservation trading posts and Mexican food stores under the name of “bellotas.” Acorns' flavors differ from area to area and tree to tree. Desert acorns from Emory oaks have little tannin and require only shelling and grinding.
     Cholla Buds
For the Hopis, cholla buds are a popular food collected in the spring. The buds are covered with spines that are removed by rolling and shaking them in a yucca sifter basket with several pieces of sandstone. Spineless buds are then steamed or boiled and served as a vegetable. The flavor is a blend of asparagus and artichokes. Cholla buds are low in calories and a four-ounce serving provides more calcium than an eight-ounce glass of milk.
     Corn
Corn is used in so many ways and in so many products that each person in the U.S. consumes some form of corn every day.
Livestock and poultry are fed corn.
Cornstarch is used to coat frozen meats and fish to prevent freezer burn.
Corn dyes color soft drinks.
Corn is used to make food containers, soap, MSG, candy, ice cream, vinegar, toothpaste, dog food, cosmetics and charcoal briquettes.
Corn pollen discovered in some prehistoric sites dates back 80,000 years. It is amazingly durable; thousand-year-old corn has been successfully popped. Most of us eat hybrid corn, but many types, colors and sizes of corn still cultivated by Native peoples
Pop corn has been enjoyed by Native Americans for the 5,000 years. Columbus brought necklaces of strung popcorn back to the court of Spain from the Caribbean. Indians sometimes popped corn by holding the cob over the fire or removing the kernels, throwing them into the fire and scrambling for those that popped. Some places the kernels in a clay pot with hot sand.
Parched Corn is similar to "corn nuts" in food stores.
    Juniper Berries
Juniper trees grow wild above 3,000 feet near piñon pine trees. Mature berries are reddish or purple in color and spicy-sweet in flavor. Some varieties of juniper berries are dried for use in cooking.
    Mesquite
Native people in the Sonoran Desert call the Mesquite tree the “tree of life.” The mesquite tree is a source of food, medicine, dye, fiber, fuel and timber and indicates where water can be found. The fragrant yellow blossoms bloom in spring. Bees make a delicious mesquite honey from them, and humans eat them as a delicacy. Collected in summer, the long seedpods are ground into flour for making bread, a beverage and a gruel. The pods are rich in protein, carbohydrate and calcium and have a sweet flavor.
    Prickly Pear Cactus
The young, tender pads of the prickly pear cactus are gathered in the spring. Called nopalitos, the pads are fat free, low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals. Prickly pea is called "tuna" and gathered in summer. It is juicy, mildly sweet and a good source of vitamin C. The ripe fruit is usually made into jam, jelly or syrup.
Pima Wheat
Traditionally the Pima grew summer crops of corn, beans and squash on land irrigated by the Gila River. In the late 1600s, Father Kino introduced wheat to the Pima that could be grown in the winter months. By the mid 100s the Pima had surplus wheat that they sold to pioneers and to military personnel who came through the Arizona Territory.
Pineapple
The Spanish reported on pineapple as an amazing food plant: “There are also some like the artichoke plant but four times as tall which give a fruit in the shape of a pine cone, twice as big, which fruit is excellent and it can be cut with a knife like a turnip and it seems very wholesome.” In 1670, Charles II was gifted the first pineapple grown in England, and the fruit became a traditional gift in colonial America. Today's pineapple motifs over doorways, on doorknockers and in centerpieces signifies the traditional friendship.
    Saltbush
Saltbush is a common southwestern shrub whose leaves and young shoots are gathered in spring and added to soups and stews. The four-winged seeds are collected in summer and autumn and ground into meal. The Hopi use the ashes of the leaves to color of piki bread.
    Sweet Potatoes
Columbus learned about sweet potatoes from the Arawak and Carib people in 1492.“ HE described it as "cooked root that had the flavor of chestnuts.” Columbus called the tuber by its Arawak name, batata, which English corrupted to “potato.” Frequently confused with yams-- a sweet tuber native to Africa--the sweet potato is a true potato. It is harder to preserve than white potatoes.
    Tomato
Tomatoes were first considered weeds in Mexican maize (corn) fields. Careful cultivation increased their yield and by 1492, the Aztecs were using the tomato in a variety of dishes and sauces. The name used today, tomato, comes from the Aztec or Nahuatl  "tomatl."
    Turkey
Before Europeans arrived, the only domesticated animals found in Mesoamerica and North America were the dog and the turkey. The Mexicans called the bird uexolotl but the English called it “turkie-bird.” Some believe Native peoples domesticated the turkey out of sheer frustration. The birds are friendly and unintelligent; once locating food sources like grain storage bin, they refused to leave. It's believe turkeys were confined and fed to prevent crop and storage destruction. The Pilgrims, who called the bird "furkee" ate a bird much different from kind we eat today. It was much leaner and “game-ier.” Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to become the United States national symbol. However, the idea was turned down because the bird was a scavenger and lacked intelligence, making it a poor symbol of the new country.
  Vanilla
Vanilla was discovered by the native peoples of Mexico. More than 1,000 years ago, the Tolonac first realized the fermented seedpods have fragrance and taste. They discovered a method for curing the beans and began to cultivate the plant. Vanilla beans became an important part of Totonac culture and were used for perfume, flavoring, medicine and insect repellent. When the Aztecs conquered the Tolonacs, they demanded vanilla beans as a tribute. “Chocolatl,” the dish of Aztec royalty, was made from cacao, maize, honey and vanilla.