Thursday, November 21, 2013


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Heid Erdrich's Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories, and Recipes from the Upper Midwest is a treat! I mean that literally (reading the recipes makes my mouth water!) and spiritually, too.

The stories she tells in the book take me to my childhood and time spent gathering plants with my grandmother, or, helping her with her garden. To do this gardening, Gram would wear old work shirts that belonged to my grandfather. They kept the sun off her arms, but there was another reason to wear them.... Gophers! See, she irrigated her garden with water from the 'high land' ditch. We'd walk up to the high land, 'turn down the water,' and walk back down to the garden, waiting for the water to meander down the bone dry bed of the ditch to her rows of corn and beans and squash and peas and cucumbers.

Sometimes, the water didn't get to the garden. When the water didn't arrive, we'd walk alongside the ditch till we got to the gopher hole that we knew we'd find. She'd rip pieces off of her shirt and stuff them, along with rocks and sticks, into the gopher hole. It was annoying as heck to her, but remembering those times gardening with my grandmother gives me cause to smile, and to--in effect--nourish my soul in the ways that Erdrich's stories do, too.

"A recipe is a story."

 "A recipe" Erdrich tells us, "is a story" (p. 12). That line perfectly captures what you'll find in her book.  Some of the stories in Erdrich's book are specific to gatherings with her family and friends. I especially like "The First Hunt and the Last" on page 84 and 85. On page 85 is her brother's recipe for venison stew. Some stories are traditional ones, and still others are about activism. Winona LaDuke, well known for her activism, has a piece in the book about gathering wild rice. She ends her piece by pointing to a company in California that has recently patented wild rice, which essentially put the Ojibwe people in a battle over who owns foods and medicines. For more on that, see LaDuke's "Ricekeepers: A Struggle to Protect Biodiversity and a Native American Way of Life" in the July/August 2007 issue of Orion Magazine. 

As you turn the pages of Original Local, there are lot of names you'll recognize if you read the work of Native writers and scholars. Louise Erdrich, for example. One of her recipes is in the book. Brenda Child is here, too. The recipes and photographs and stories make this cookbook an absolute delight. You can get an autographed copy from Birchbark Books

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