Cherokee Bean Bread - Gastro Obscura

Prepared Foods

Cherokee Bean Bread

Bakers delicately wrap this corn-and-bean dumpling in hickory leaves before boiling.

More like a dumpling, Cherokee bean bread rests on two ingredients fundamental to Native American civilization: corn and beans.

Despite its simple contents, making this traditional bread is not easy. Bakers first soak corn kernels in a mixture of lye-rich hickory ash and water, then remove their tough outer shells. After sifting and grinding the resulting cornmeal, they add cooked beans and water to form a large, moist dumpling. Then comes the most challenging part: One must delicately wrap the corn-and-bean dumpling in soaked hickory leaves or corn husks, and tie the packet with a piece of young river grass. The seal has to be tight, as the parcel gets dropped in a kettle and boiled for about an hour.

The resulting soft, moist bread—often made with rare, heirloom varieties of corn and beans—is an enduring piece of Cherokee history.

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