A dish made from dough typically made from flour, water, baking powder, and grease, then deep-fried to create a fluffy, bubbly loaf. Indigenous peoples traditionally did not use processed white flour, packaged lard (or later, shortening), cane sugar, pork, chicken, eggs, beef etc., as these are imports brought over by colonists. When colonists subjugated the Native Americans and forced them off their ancestral lands and onto barren reservations to the west beginning in 1864, however, they were forced to use ingredients entirely foreign to them, many of them provided in commodity food boxes by the American government. So, as author David Treuer writes, fry bread is “not actually a traditional indigenous food, it’s something Natives had to make do with” (Treuer 430). In other words, they took the meager handouts of their oppressors and made it their own, finding a way to cook and eat it that was distinctly theirs and which made the most out of scant resources. The ingredients (and final product) are not healthy by anyone’s standard, but fry bread is delicious and filling, and has come to be considered a kind of comfort food.
The Native American treatment of colonial ingredients may have come from their indigenous practice of dropping “spoonfuls of cornmeal into pots of hot bear fat to make a fried bread” (Weatherford 108, qtd. in Touching Leaves 20).
So, foreign ingredients become a distinctly Native American dish with a complicated reputation; some, like Sean Sherman (chef and owner of the Sioux Chef restaurant, a pun that I’m thoroughly in love with) disavow it as an unhealthy diet imposed upon them, the deadly nourishment of oppression; others, like Emma and Beverly Morgan, recognize its place in their history and want to reclaim it as a symbol of their ingenuity and endurance. It must be for reasons along the latter lines that a surviving Leni Lenapi cookbook by Touching Leaves Woman includes a recipe for fry bread (salapon) in her 2016 edition of Lenape Indian Cooking (21).
Featured image credit goes to Cooking Classy.
Touching Leaves Woman, Lenape Indian Cooking. Ed. Jim Rementer, 2nd ed. (Bartlesville, Oklahoma: Touching Leaves Co. 2016).
Treuer, David. Heartbeat of Wounded Knee (New York: Riverhead Books 2019).
Weatherford, Jack. Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World (Crown Publishers 1988).