Author gives nod to Tanka in new cookbook

January 02, 2014 1 Comment

Author gives nod to Tanka in new cookbook
When author Heid Erdrich, an enrolled member of the Ojibwe tribe, saw a huge interest in the local food movement in her home of the Midwest, she discovered there was a puzzling lack of Native mentions.

"Indigenous people here created a lot of the foods people were eating -- and many of the local foods," she said.

That's what motivated her to write her newest body of work -- a cookbook called Original Local: Indigenous Foods Stories and Recipes from the Upper Midwest which features a dish called Tanka Bite Bread.

"I kept getting recipes with bacon in it and I was decolonizing bacon. Then I thought, 'maybe pemmican and wasna'," she said. "A lot of people make cornbread with bacon in it and this was a more indigenous alternative to bacon."

Her experiment led her to incorporate Tanka Bites into the dishes she created stating that it is "an easily available source of bison where people may not have access." She said it was also a way to introduce people to bison who may not have had it before and she at times uses the Bites as garnish or in a soup or chowder. She also occasionally uses Tanka Bites instead of smoked fish, which is very common along the Great Lakes.

"Mostly it was tasty and people loved it," Ms. Erdrich said. "I used the Spicy [Tanka Bites] for the bread. People really liked it."

She admits that there are a lot of challenges today when it comes to the Native diet because of lack of resources and education. Although she is not a nutritionist, Ms. Erdrich encourages cooking every day with indigenous ingredients -- grass-fed meats such as bison being crucial.

"I'm interested in how bison help other plants to grow," she said. "For overall health, restoring bison is important."

Below is one of Ms. Erdrich's recipes from her cookbook featuring Tanka as an alternative ingredient.

Sunny Corn Muffins | Makes 12 muffins

Truth be told, I've never harvested cattail pollen. But some of
you can probably look up from this book, glance out your windows, and see cattails.
I imagine you in early summer, late June, avoiding sinking in the mud while gently
tapping tops of cattails into a long, skinny plastic bag to knock off the pollen. Wait.
Now I imagine you accompanied by your sweetheart of many years, your dearly
beloved, and it takes you quite awhile to find enough cattails, which you discover are better cut and taken home to shake.

In fact, you avoid the mud, get in a canoe,
and have a long, lovely day cutting cattail spikes on the lake. When you get home,
you sift the flour to get out the bugs and fluff. Then you make these muffins, look
lovingly into each other's eyes, and sing "You Are My Sunshine, My Only Sunshine,"
or some other old, sweet tune.

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons maple sugar, or substitute granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cattail pollen, optional (see head note)
1 egg (try a duck egg)
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or grease well.
In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients; in a second bowl, mix egg, milk, and butter.
Add wet ingredients to dry all at once, stirring to moisten. Pour batter into prepared
muffin tin. Top with sunflower seeds. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly

*Variation: Tanka Bite Bread
Decolonize your corn bread with bison bits! Try chopping up some spicy sweet
Tanka Bites (order directly from instead of going for the hog. Make
Sunny Corn Muffins, leaving out the cattail pollen. Pour batter into a greased
9-inch pie plate or baking dish and sprinkle with Tanka Bites instead of sunflower
seeds. Bake 20 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool briefly, then slice into wedges
and serve.


1 Response


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