The First Food

Before Palisade peaches and Rocky Mountain oysters, there was wild sage, piñon nuts, Anasazi beans, and buffalo. A guide to cooking with native foods.

October 2006

One of my first food memories is of munching happily on hot fry bread dripping with honey while my grandmother chatted with her Oglala Lakota friend Princess Blue Waters. Each July, the Oglala came to the Indian Village at Cheyenne Frontier Days for the weeklong festivities. Summer visits with her old friend was an annual ritual for my grandma and a special treat for me.

As an adult, I still love eating fry bread, but I’ve come to appreciate the depth of Native American cuisine, especially that of the tribes most commonly associated with Colorado: the Cheyenne and Arapaho (both known as buffalo hunters), Ute, Pueblo, Comanche, and Apache.

In our era of mass production and fast food, there’s much we can glean from adopting the indigenous diet of the desert-dwelling early Americans. Their table was sophisticated, with several varieties of fresh and dried corn, beans, squash, wild rice, tuber vegetables, wild onions, berries, seeds, herbs, and wild game. Food was highly valued for its medicinal and preventive properties, not just its nourishment, and American Indians instinctively understood what science has now proven: Blue corn contains high levels of antioxidants, buffalo meat is lean and protein-rich, prickly-pear cactus moderates the body’s sugar levels, and summer squash packs fiber, magnesium, and vitamin A.