In just a few weeks we’ve gone from daily cheese making, by Maggie, to some goat milk in my morning coffee, as the nannies finish up providing this season’s milk.
Now, apart from apples, cabbage-type plants, onions, carrots, a few melons and sorghum, most of the harvest starting to crowd the house is of New World origin — winter squashes and pumpkins being the bulk.
There are some ears of corn hanging from the walls here and there, baskets of tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes and peppers, dried beans in bottles, and frankly who knows what is in the freezer.
Anyway, I’m sure we could put together a pretty good picture of typical pre-Columbian food from what we have on hand.
I look over this spread of food and I can’t help thinking of Po’pay.
He was a charismatic Pueblo religious leader who was instrumental in the revolt of 1680 that temporarily (for over a decade) expelled the Spanish from what is now New Mexico.
There had been drought, and there had been suffering under the iron rule of the Spaniards. The Pueblo, as with all other Native Americans, were commanded to denounce their religious and cultural beliefs or face harsh punishment — death, foot removal, whippings and the like.
Po’pay himself had been severely whipped, and several of his comrades executed for practicing “witchcraft,” before a mob demanded his release.
The Spanish were overstretched in the region, so they gave in to the demands. Then Po’Pay went into seclusion to orchestrate revolt.
He was on a religious mission to return the people “to the state of their antiquity.” All crosses, churches and Christian images were to be destroyed. The people were ordered to cleanse themselves in ritual baths, to use their Puebloan names and to destroy all vestiges of the Roman Catholic religion and Spanish culture, including Spanish livestock and fruit trees. Po’pay, it was said, forbade the planting of wheat and barley and commanded those Indians who had been married according to the rites of the Catholic Church to dismiss their wives and to take others after the old native tradition.
It didn’t go over so well in the long run. The Pueblo did not have a tradition of centralized rule. Each community had, by tradition, been autonomous and not all, after over a century, were strictly opposed to the influence of the Spanish or their protection.
In fact, it is a marvel Po’pay and his fellows were able to unify such an assemblage in the first place.
But, back to the food. The kind of things they could eat weren’t of European origin:
“Buffalo, deer, elk, antelope, mountain sheep, rabbits, fish, ducks, geese, turkeys, squirrels and other rodents, small birds, eggs, grasshoppers, grubs and eels; piñon nuts, wild plums, currants, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cactus fruits and pads, Indian tea, wild onions, wild parsley, juniper berries, wild spinach, osha, cattails, watercress, chokecherries, and mushrooms; Indian rice grass, wild asparagus, purslane, serviceberries, sumac, mint, rosehips, corn (non-GMO), beans, squash, seeds, sunflowers, tomatillos, amaranth, and quinoa.”
(From “The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook: Whole Food of Our Ancestors,” edited by Roxanne Swentzell and Patricia M. Perea)
Don’t forget the tomatoes and the bell peppers and summer squash and maple syrup, and whatever else.
It doesn’t sound all that bad. That’s a pretty healthy diet if you think about it. In the end, though, bread and cheese won the day, and Europe was here to stay.
It is said that Po’pay’s interesting rebellion resulted in much better treatment of the Pueblo upon the return of the Spanish, and a revitalization of Native American culture in the Southwest.