This article is actually an interview with Nancy Plemmons, one of the original authors of “Cherokee Cooking: From the Mountains and the Gardens to the Table.” In this short piece, you get a quick introduction to a number of important ingredients and dishes within Cherokee cuisine, from sochan, ramps, bean dumplings, to the ubiquitous presence of pork in Cherokee cuisine, including hominy dishes. While there’s a lot to highlight from this piece, Nancy’s reply to the following question worth repeating:
“White settlers adopted so many ingredients and dishes from the people who were already living in these mountains, from poke sallet to cornbread. What’s a dish you’d still only find on a Cherokee table?
“Oh, maybe pig’s feet with hominy. We love hominy, because we love anything to do with corn. I love homemade hominy, but it’s an all-day thing to make in a big pot with hickory ash and nobody does it anymore. Once you’ve eaten homemade hominy, it’s hard to settle for canned.“
(Image is taken from Sapelo Island Birdhouses, which currently has Cherokee Cooking for sale through their site.)
This article was published in 2015 in the journal Native South. Drawing on numerous ethnohistoric sources from the Eastern Woodlands, I outline the materials, steps, and aspects of sociality that compose the general native historic hominy foodway of the Eastern Woodlands (just like the title says!). This piece was intended to be a “starter piece” for research on the hominy foodway, introducing the idea of a widespread practice of nixtamalization among historic Indian groups in the south, as well as highlighting similarities between seemingly disparate maize-based practices. In it, I also introduce the idea of that the driving force behind the historic practice of nixtamalizing practices in the native hominy foodway was not nutritional, but instead perpetuated by a culturally-constructed taste for bitter foods. It’s a theme that pops up over and over again in my work, and the idea of culturally constructed taste features prominently in my classes as well.
In 2016, this article was published in American Antiquity. In it, I propose that the Mississippian standard jar, the most prolific ceramic vessel form throughout the Mississippian world, was not simply a generic cooking pot, but was instead specially adapted to nixtamalize maize, making it a vital tool in the late prehistoric, Mississippian hominy foodway. While the article is intended for an academic audience, I certainly value any and all perspective on the piece! Additionally, I’ll try to write a more accessible, less jargon-ee piece on the subject soon for the blog.
Below is a color version of Figure 4 from the article.
Whole kernel, nixtamalized hominy.
Let us be clear–this post is about making your own nixtamalized hominy, your own boiled maize kernels that have been soaked in an alkaline substrate, which will not only make processing them easier, but will also enhance their flavor. If you simply want to soak your dried corn in water then grind/cook it, this is not the post for you. You may argue that this is hominy just the same, but I’m taking a historical perspective–for centuries, hominy was nixtamalized, maize and alkaline treatment married in a prolific foodway. This may not be the hominy you know, but this is the hominy you will soon learn to make if you keep reading. Continue reading
Vertumnus, a mid-sixteenth-century painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Note the use of a maize cob for an ear. Maize, like many New World food items, was rapidly assimilated into the culinary traditions of Europe, becoming common place within only a few decades after Columbus’s first trip.
Essential to hominy is the process of nixtamalization (pronounced NEESH-ta-mal-i-za-shun). It’s a tricky word, and honestly, it’s a tricky process. For this reason, there’s a lot of misinformation about what nixtamalization is and exactly what it does. Continue reading