“Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories and Recipes From the Upper Midwest” is a cookbook, memoir and collage of today’s culinary scene. The title describes the author, Heid Erdrich, as well. Poet, artist and scholar, Erdrich weaves poems, interviews with activists and artists, bits of history, cooking tips and hints throughout the recipes.
The dishes, while focused on indigenous foods, embrace global flavors. Recipes such as Three Sisters Salsa, Ramp Kimchi, Manoomin (wild rice) Lasagna and Venison Mole Chili, in this volume from the Minnesota Historical Society Press ($19.95, 224 pages), are well suited to today’s kitchens.
“I wanted to call attention to these wonderful local ingredients with simple recipes that are easy,” Erdrich told me when we met at Birchbark Books, near her home in Minneapolis.
“And I was surprised by how much I didn’t know when I began my research and found that the least likely sources had the best information. Interestingly, not many people in the food industry — chefs, caterers, institutional cooks — know or care about heritage foods. So I had to dig around and simply find good home cooks who cared. One person would lead me on to another. People who care about real food are typically generous. I realized how important it is to document this wisdom before it is lost. These foods represent our past and can be our future,” Erdrich said.
The book showcases a spectrum of Ho-Chunk Menominee, Potawatomi and Manadan gardeners and harvesters. The chapters are organized by ingredient — manoomin, corn, fish (freshwater muskie, walleye, whitefish), wild game (including venison and game birds), bison, and vegetables and beans, herbs and tea, maple and berries.
Written in a warm, conversational and confident voice, the book conveys Heid’s passion and commitment to gathering everyone together at a big table.
“One of the biggest challenges for me was in adjusting the recipes to smaller families. When Indians prepare meals, they cook for lots and lots of people; we like to feast,” she said. “Writing headnotes is no easy thing,” she added. “It’s kind of like writing poetry.”
It’s for that very reason this collection of recipes is far more than a cookbook.
Beth Dooley is the author of “Minnesota’s Bounty” and “The Northern Heartland Kitchen.”