Over the last few weeks, my family has gathered Indian food - black moss, brown camas, and wild onions - to cook in a traditional pit oven. This is the second year we've done this as a family, apart from the community culture camp. In the big picture, we're all still 'students' of the old ways, but I have to say that connecting to these ancestral technologies is a very fulfilling experience.
My family once used this method of cooking as a central part of their livelihood, but the practice has since fallen by the wayside of history. My great grandmother Lizzie Homer Moses was pit cooking at their home on Reservation Road until the early 1960s, possibly as late as 1964. My grandfather's family used this process until the 1970s. My friend Francis also remembers cooking for his grandmother until the 1970s.
Pit cooking was revived five years ago as part of the Wellpinit School culture week. And then last year my family also returned to this method of food preparation.
It was important for me to involve my children. They participated as we prepared the food and dug the pits. They also observed all the various stages of the cooking process. Perhaps someday they will come to appreciate the beauty of this experience and then teach their children.
This process is an important part of our spirituality. This aspect of the process is intensely personal, and I might not even share this fact, except that I see an urgent need for our communities to re-connect to nature and earth-based processes. We have become so dependent on modern comforts and technologies that we are slowly disconnecting from one another and from ourselves. A great many social maladies are healed when we simply get our hands dirty and work together in nature. Over a period of three days, this simple earth oven brought together dozens of individuals, children, and elders within a common cultural experience. Families were strengthened and our connection to the earth was deepened.
|Cleaning the moss. Wild onions are visible inside the yellow bin.|
|The children also helped clean the moss.|
|The food was bundled inside cotton cloth just prior to being placed in the oven.|
|The camas in its raw state is white with onion-like layers.|
|The cooked camas turns sweet and dark brown.|