A conversation with Linda Wilson at the Sprout Growers & Makers Marketplace
Doughy figure-eights are dropped slowly and subsequently pulled from oil boiling at a perfect roll - the kind of roll that occurs right at 400 degrees. The fry bread floats lightly in the oil, is turned once, and then laid out to cool.
“If you’re not using a fry pan, you wait for that little shimmer, just before it starts to smoke,” said Linda Wilson, a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, retired childcare provider (20+ years), and grandmother. Linda took her place in the Sprout kitchen during the February monthly Growers & Makers Marketplace to demonstrate her fry bread recipe and share its significance to her tribal culture.
The origin of fry bread dates back to the forced marches when our ancestors were taken off tribal lands and put on the forced marches to reservations. Some people, with animals for instance, had to travel 300 miles. And the government gave them rations of flour, sugar, salt, and lard. And that’s why they came up with fry bread. It was a means of survival back then and it’s become a unifier for most tribes.
If you go to a pow wow and you get out of your car the first thing you smell is fry bread. And each tribe, the majority of the tribes has their own fry bread recipe. They are all a little different, although pretty basic. And then there’s the different ways that we eat them. For instance, my tribe, the Anishinaabe, we eat ours with blueberry. Blueberry sauce, blueberry jam, plain blueberries. The Sioux, the Lakota, eat theirs with chokecherries. Incidentally in 2005, South Dakota chose fry bread as their state bread.
Anishinaabe is our name for our tribe. We are Ojibwe, Chippewa. But Anishinaabe is our word, it means “The People”.
And you make this for your grandkids?
Oh, I’ll make it for anybody who comes over. But I retired years ago, I’m a grandma. We are working so hard, trying so hard to keep some of our traditions alive and it is difficult in this day and age with the young people having such difficulties. The majority of grandparents such as me will take on our grandchildren. We live it. What that means is we teach them honesty, we teach them compassion, kindness. It’s basically those kind of things you would teach, your grandparents have taught you, your parents have taught you. We teach our children to respect the earth. The protectors in South Dakota goes with that. We teach our children to respect the four directions. It’s a cycle, our medicine wheel. Yellow is birth, black is childhood, red is adulthood, and the white is the elders. And when we teach, we don’t just come out and say “today you’re going to learn about being an elder,” we live it.
“Now, this bread is going to have to set a little bit before we serve it because it needs to cool down and sort of relax.” Linda said as she laid the finished fry bread in big silver pans, readying them to be shared with those attending the Marketplace. And with the bread, the story behind it is also shared.