Native American History

How did native Americans preserve their meat?

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2009-10-24 15:21:51
2009-10-24 15:21:51

Virtually all tribes' diets pre-contact up until reservation times consisted of three primary things:

1. Meat, fresh or dried.

A. Fresh the day of the kill (winter or off-season one-off kills by hunters or their family to eat now, and that meat was boiled in skin pouches with hot stones dropped in as the heat source, baked in clay-formed vessels, or roasted over a fire. Other foods were added as available. The softest cuts of meat were always saved for the older members of the family / tribe, as they had difficulty chewing, and it was also common to have a younger person "pre-chew" the meat for those who were toothless, to make their digestion easier.

In season, and pre-European invasions, buffalo were prolific throughout the continent, and everyone participated in hunting them. This involved a feast in the short term, but the entire tribe butchered and dried meat, cured hides with the brain of the animal, and utilized every part of the animal for utensils, glue, bow-backing, saddle frames, etc. Mass kills allowed mass-drying for preservation through the months when game was scarce during winter camps.

Post-European trading, it was common for Indian families to keep a "cooking" pot of a sort of stew, adding to it as things were gathered / procured throughout the day, so that people could eat as they were hungry (not the white custom of eating at certain "times" of the day), and guests could be offered food the instant they entered the lodge.

B. Dried. Virtually all Indian peoples made a food called Pemmican, which was a combination of dried, chipped particles of meat; dried, flaked berries or fruit; and fat or tallow. Once dried these were stored in bags until needed. These were critical for travel, and even more so for war parties/hunting parties for the purpose of stealth, when a fire could not be made.

2. Berries/Fruit - Fresh or dried

A. Berries - fresh while on the trail or in season, and entire camps were located because of, or scheduled moves around, the seasons when these ripened for picking. This was a critical part of the diet.

B. Dried for later use, as covered above

3. Roots - All tribes used roots as we use potatoes/noodles, as a form of starch. The southwest tribes did so in particular, and added mushrooms, wild onions, pine nuts as available and in season to vary the diet. Roots were readily available for the digging, and it was a regular responsibility of the women of the tribe to locate and harvest them. The European "root cellar" is testament to the ancient pattern of this behavior around the world, and the ease of preservation of dried roots, potatoes, etc.

Post-contact, people planted gardens, herded sheep, etc., and it is particularly common practice for southwest tribes to offer a central pot of something to eat from with bread and / or the hands, as a shared meal. Although non-Indians are sometimes "repelled" by the practice, it is by no means any less sanitary than having someone else's hands involved in the preparation of your food.

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