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Friday, March 26, 2010

What's Cooking at the Archives?

Cookbooks can offer much more to a reader than just recipes. They can be time capsules, mini autobiographies, even works of art with their unique photos and illustrations. Mae Wadley Abbott’s Oklahoma Indian Cook Book: the Best Indian Recipes from the Best Indian State is an excellent example, compiling fifty-seven traditional recipes in anticipation of Oklahoma’s 1957 mid-centennial celebration. As part of the Acee Blue Eagle Papers, Abbott's cookbook finds a fitting home at the National Anthropological Archives. As stated in her foreword, “Food is: The most classifying of any one thing as to racial edification according to anthropologists.”

Highlighting the importance of cultural preservation, Abbot explains, “As an American Indian Woman, I have realized that Indian Foods, like the Mystic, Ceremonial, and Religious Phases of the Red Man is fast disappearing into the past….The older Indian Women are passing on; a few years hence and they will have taken to their graves the secrets that are valuable, both as history and aid to those of the future who desire the knowledge of how to cook Indian Food." Acee Blue Eagle, acclaimed Native American artist, contributes striking illustrations, a poem to the reader and even some of his grandmother's recipes to the book.

Dried cow hooves, hog jowls and water lily seeds, while called for, may not be readily available to the average cook today. However, many recipes like Sweet Potato Bread and Ah-Gee Chum-Buh-Gee, a snack popular with children, seem tasty and straightforward. With tradition as her focus, Abbott includes instructions for properly drying corn, fish, melons and pumpkins along with those for producing ash lye to make hominy and soap.

An added bonus to this collection is a set of Abbott's more contemporary hand-written and typescript recipes. Often the medium is as interesting as the contents. Some recipes fill up reverse sides of letters written on USO stationary with “IDLE GOSSIP SINKS SHIPS” printed boldly across the bottom. Others share space on the back of an agenda that promises fireworks, floats and a huge arts and crafts exposition at the “Two-Day Indian Centennial, honoring the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma.” Stacks of printed pages cover every course from soup to nuts….well, cake to be exact. Admittedly, some of these recipes read like dares (vinegar pie, chicken mousse), but others are rich and inviting as much for their names as the anticipated result (Lil from Amarillo’s Snow Cake, Mother’s Homemade Wedding Cake).

Here are a few of Abbott's recipes to enjoy. Note that the chicken mousse serves 30--be sure to invite some "friends"!

Ah-Gee Chum-Buh-Gee
(Oklahoma Indian Cook Book: the Best Indian Recipes from the Best Indian State)

1 pound dried fruit
2 cups corn meal, well sifted
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Cook fruit about 1/2 done in enough water that it will be about 1 1/2 inches over fruit, pour fruit scalding hot over meal, soup and all. If meal is not soft enough to hold its shape with the fruit and fruit soup, add boiling water. Mould into round oblongs and wrap in corn shucks long-wise, tie each end and two or three sections of the middle, drop into boiling water and cook covered until done. These were made especially for Indian children to be used for between meals, like candy or cookies.

Chicken Mousse

4 cups chopped chicken breast
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons
8 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups chopped celery
4 tablespoons plain gelatin
5 cups chicken broth
3 cups whipping cream, whipped

Dissolve gelatin in hot liquid, cool; and add chicken, salt, nuts, lemon juice, celery, and sugar. When it begins to set add whipped cream and let finish setting. Serves 30.

Lil From Amarillo’s Snow Cake

¾ cup butter
2 cups
fine sugar (beet or fruit)
2 ½ cups flour
¼ cup corn starch
3 tsp baking
½ tsp salt
1 cup
2 tsp vanilla
8 egg whites beaten stiff

Cream butter and sugar. Sift dry ingredients, add alternately with water and vanilla, and fold in egg whites last. Bake in 2 layers 20 minutes at 375 degrees. Fill with raspberry filling and any white icing on top.

Raspberry Filling:

2 tablespoons butter
2 cups powdered sugar
½ cup fresh red raspberries
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Blend butter and sugar. Mash and heat raspberries slightly. Add to butter and sugar. If too thin add more sugar until of the right consistency to spread


  1. Fantastic! I laughed out loud at the "serves 30". And I love the phrase "IDLE GOSSIP SINKS SHIPS". Not sure I'm brave enough to try any of the recipes!

  2. I loved this post! Funny and informative. But it would be nice to include a wine recommendation for the chicken mousse.

  3. Wow! I have this book, was looking for information about it and saw this blog. Great info! I don't know what the Smithsonian has, but the copy I have is signed on the front page by the Author, and signed on the back page by Acee Blue Eagle.