Our family could always rely on our mother Susan to provide every member of our group with a nourishing meal during the day. We were lucky to have a mom who was capable of preparing meals for two daughters and seven sons. Mom was a great cook, one that could prepare common Canadian meals like homemade lasagna, shepherd’s pie or meat loaf. When I think about it now we were also fortunate to have mom cook us traditional meals on a regular basis while we were growing up. Now that I don’t rely on mom to supply my meals on a regular basis, I miss the food that she prepared for our family in Attawapiskat.
One of the tastes that I miss the most is the wild food. She grew up on the land with her family during a time when our people relied on sustenance from the land. Mom learned from her own mother how to prepare almost every type of wild meat that was hunted or fished from the land.
In the winter, we relied on a frozen supply of fall moose. This was preserved as ten pound blocks of frozen meat. For a quick meal the frozen block was shaved into flakes of meat that could be fried with onions, flour and some water. This was a great meal after a long ride in the cold or a hard day’s work in the freezing weather. Another taste we enjoyed during the winter was wild caribou meat. Many people in the community went hunting during the coldest part of the year. This is the best time to reach the caribou herds in the north or inland on the frozen marshlands. Mom prepared this wild delicacy in stews with potatoes, carrots and onions.
Another meal with caribou meat we all enjoyed was our aunt’s special caribou meat pie. Aunt Josephine, mom’s younger sister, is originally from north of Attawapiskat where their family lived, but for many years she has raised her own family in Fort Severn on the Hudson’s Bay coast. This region is a natural home to the caribou. Aunt Josephine has learned over the years how to use this traditional source of food to feed her family. She has her own special recipe for caribou meat pie. Whenever she arrived for a visit to our home we looked forward to tasting her combination of spices, vegetables and fresh wild caribou meat inside a perfect pastry pie crust.
In the spring time, we looked forward to fresh goose. Although we had this treat almost all year round in our freezer; it was always best to have it fresh. When the first signs of spring thaw began, everyone in the community looked forward to that first meal of fresh roasted goose. As soon as the spring hunt began, we could enjoy goose in several different ways. The most traditional method was to have it roasted with very little additions, or with potatoes, carrots, onions and stuffing. For those who did not want to wait until they brought it home, the fresh goose was roasted over an open fire on the land. This is another tasty option that many people in my community enjoy. When the geese were brought home, other traditional methods were used to create different tastes. After much work and effort, geese were smoked or gutted, delimbed and prepared for freezing. The finished smoked goose was mostly a spring time meal that was enjoyed for about a month or two, but was sometimes frozen for later use. Another traditional method of keeping smoked goose was to preserve it in animal fat or in salt and then it would be store it in a cool location.
In addition, the springtime goose hunt included other tasty treats such as barbecued goose hearts, gizzards and wings over an open fire. Although this might not sound too appetizing to many people, it is a taste that is enjoyed by many of the James Bay Cree during this time of year.
During the summer we relied on our store of wild meat but we also enjoyed an annual supply of wild blueberries or red berries harvested from the land. These were made into jams which were eaten with bannock.
Throughout the year we always had our tea, which is still a familiar drink for me. This bitter drink was mixed with canned milk and sugar. This is something we all enjoyed during the coldest months or at hottest period of summer. A traditional drink with tea that many Elders enjoyed was tea ploss, which was a mix of tea, flour, lard and sugar. This is a combination of tastes that many young people, including myself, did not really enjoy but to many older people, it is a drink that is known to have saved many lives.
Although I now enjoy a diet of mostly non-Native foods I look forward to meals like goose or moose from the north. I wonder how the goose hunt is going this spring? Maybe a frozen goose will find its way to me….hint, hint.