Today, eating locally grown food is trendy. To do so is a choice, given the selection of food we can find at our local supermarkets. Go back in time and not as far back as you would think, and eating locally was the only choice. Your diet consisted of what could be grown, raised or foraged near by.
The original people to do this in my part of the world were the Narragansett Native Americans, who lived here (and still do), in what would become Rhode Island. With Thanksgiving just two days away I have been wondering about what that original local diet consisted of.
The Narragansett people had a varied diet. Protein came from hunting deer, wild turkey and small game, as well as fishing for clams, lobster, oysters and shell fish. The tribe farmed the three sisters: corn (maize), squash and beans, which was cooked into succotash, as well as pumpkins, cucumbers and artichokes. Foraging supplied walnuts and chestnuts, currants, strawberries, blueberries and cranberries in the wild bogs of the future Cape Cod peninsula. The maize was ground into a mealy flour from which a form of cornbread was made. It all sounds pretty good to me!
The Native American word for cranberry is sassamanesh (impress your family and friends at the Thanksgiving table with that trivia!). The name cranberry comes from the sand crane which loved to eat the berry, as well as the long drooping flower of the plant which looks like the crane's neck.
Although the Narragansett tribe did not make anything resembling cranberry sauce, the condiment has become a must have dish on the modern Thanksgiving table and it really is spectacular with roast turkey! This recipe has two classic New England ingredients- cranberries and maple syrup, along with a little kick of ginger.
|Serve Cranberry Sauce in crystal to show off the color.|
New England Cranberry Sauce
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 tsp. lemon juice (optional)
This recipe makes a sweet sauce. If you like your cranberry sauce a little tarter, reduce the maple syrup or add a teaspoon of lemon juice.
Bring the syrup, water and ginger to a boil. Stir in the cranberries and simmer until the berries pop, stirring occasionally. The sauce will thicken. Remove from the heat and lightly mash the berries. Let cool before refrigerating.
Today, we have become spoiled for choice when it comes to the variety of foods we want in our diets. A look back at the ingredients Native Americans in Rhode Island had to work with, I think, reveals lots of options that a skilled cook could be quite creative with. Eating locally might be seen as trendy, but I see it as old-fashioned and I mean that in the best way possible.