The traditional Native American diet was seasonally dependent on hunting, fishing and the foraging and farming of produce and grains. Hunting and gathering have always been part of the Ojibwe life cycle. Ojibwe Food depends on the seasons. Traditionally, the Ojibwe migrated in the spring to obtain sugar sap from the maples. In the summer to find berries, wild greens, and herbs, in the fall to harvest wild rice, and in winter to kill game and spearfish.
The lunar phases of the yearly cycle were identified by food availability. For example, September was Moon of Ricing, and April was Moon of Sugar Making. This names modern Ojibwe remember although they may no longer seek that food.
Many aspects of food and diet are sacred to the Ojibwe. They are intertwined with religion and provide a guide to the treatment of the land and its products. Plants, trees, animals, and grasses all have a purpose and are a gift that the Ojibwe hold in reverence.
Because this bounty was placed on earth to be used as food or medicine, it must be managed carefully to ensure its presence for generations to come. Wild rice, maple sugar, and various wild game are integral parts of religious feasts. This sacred use of food is a personal matter that most Ojibwe prefers not to discuss.
Indians, in general, used two thousand different foods derived from plants alone, not to mention the available wildlife. Nuts, berries, greens, onions, turtle eggs, camas bulbs, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, and numerous other foodstuffs formed part of the Ojibwe diet.
Maple syrup is an essential part of life Ojibwe. Maple sugar has always been enjoyed as a sweet, and the syrup is still used by Indians on vegetables, cereals, fish, and wild rice. In addition, for some, it has medicinal qualities, for others an element of sacredness, and for all, it is a symbol of good relations among people and harmony between them and their religious world.
The modern Ojibwe diet has substituted some other types of food like frybread and “Indian tacos” in place of these traditionally prepared meals.
An interest in traditional ingredients like wild rice, which is the official state grain of Minnesota and was part of the pre-colonial diet of the Ojibwe is growing.
Gathering wild rice (actually the kernel from an aquatic wild grass called Zizania aquatica by botanists and manomin by the Ojibwe) is an important food ritual involving all members of the family.
Other staple foods of the Objibwe were fish, maple sugar, venison, and corn. They grew beans, squash, corn, and potatoes and foraged for blueberries, blackberries, chokecherries, raspberries, gooseberries, and huckleberries. During the summer hunting for animals like deer, beaver, moose, goose, duck, rabbits, and bear.
Ojibwe Typical Food
American Indians did not use salt before 1845. Prior to this time foods were seasoned only with maple syrup or maple sugar. Salt, however, was quickly incorporated into Ojibwe cooking. It was also used in food preservation, especially after the Scandinavians who came to fish Lake Superior’s north shore waters showed the Ojibway how to salt down fish for winter storage.
Fish, once crucial to the survival of the Ojibwe during winters, is still a mainstay in the diet of many Indians. Before the introduction of salt, fish were most often preserved by cleaning and freezing or by smoking. Another way was to layer the cleaned fish in snow.
Fish is served either boiled, baked, pickled, or made into cakes. Larger fish are boiled in salted water for ten to fifteen minutes and, traditionally, are accompanied by boiled potatoes and onions. Baked fish is covered with strips of bacon or salt pork. Fish cakes are a well-liked entree. Every family has its recipe for mixing flaked fish with crumbs, eggs, canned milk, and seasonings. Some women grind up sunfish, bones and all, add other ingredients, form the mixture into cakes, and fry them. Recipes for pickled fish use trout, whitefish, and bullheads.
A wide assortment of wild game found its way to the cooking pots of the Ojibwe. Deer, moose, bear, rabbit, muskrat, beaver, raccoon, porcupine, partridge, duck, and coot were the most common. Deer and moose are favorite meats, often butchered into steaks and roasts or processed for ground meat and sausage.
The summers were filled with berry picking beginning with strawberries and followed by Juneberries, raspberries, pin cherries, and blueberries. The fruit was canned, dried, or made into jelly or jam for the winter. Fruit supplied almost the only dessert eaten by the Ojibwe.
Ojibwe Food Recipes
Because of the nomadic life, the Ojibwe led, they frequently prepared one-pot meals over an open fire. Whenever weather permitted, this fire would be outdoors. On rainy days or in the depths of winter it was moved to the center of the large wigwams.
A typical one-pot meal often began with the preparation of fry bread.
Foods were cooked in a birch-bark container suspended from a tripod over a low fire that provided continuous heat. The cooks dropped hot rocks, taken from the coals, into the water-filled bark containers, which would not burn as long as there was water in the vessel. The rocks brought the water to a low boil sufficient to cook all the ingredients of the one-pot meal. Later the manomin (wild rice) or napodin (dumplings) might be added.
Cast-iron kettles replaced birch-bark containers as the Ojibwe began an exchange of goods with the white people, especially the fur traders.