Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Nebraska II - Wojapi makes me happi

Like the pemmican I made a while back, wojapi is a classic Great Plains dish.  Dale Carson, author of New Native American Cooking, makes hers from blackberries, but any berries (or even peaches if you've got 'em) will work with this dish.

Official Name: State of Nebraska
State Nicknames: The Cornhusker State
Admission to the US:  March 1, 1867 (#37)
Capital: Lincoln (2nd largest)
Other Important Cities: Omaha (largest), Bellevue (3rd largest), Grand Island (4th largest)
 Midwest, Great Plains; West North Central (US Census)
RAFT NationsBisonPinyon Nut
Bordered by: South Dakota (north), Iowa, Missouri (east), the Missouri River (northeast and east), Oklahoma (south), Colorado (southwest), Wyoming (northwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: channel catfish (fish), honeybee (insect - of course, the honey is what people eat, not the bee), white-tailed deer (mammal)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: corn, wheat and honey; foods of the Great Plains, including Native American foods (pemmican, wojapi, etc); foods from German, Czech and Russian immigrants, and foods from Midwestern and Southern settlers; the Reuben and runza sandwiches; beef (Omaha steaks)

Wojapi is the Lakota Sioux (and most widely used) name for the fruit pudding found throughout the Great Plains.  An article from the Lincoln Journal Star earlier this year noted that the Ponca Tribe threw a party for the town of Milford, Nebraska, to thank the community that buried a member that died over a century ago on the forced Ponca Trail of Tears march from Nebraska to Oklahoma in the 1870's, to thank the community for "taking care of our ancestor for 134 years" noted Ponca Museum cultural director Gary Robinette [Abourezk 2011].  The feast, the article notes, included "a traditional meal of buffalo corn soup, frybread and wojapi (a kind of fruit pudding)" [Abourezk 2011].

There are various recipes out there for wojapi, but they are more or less the same: berries, water, cornstarch or flour, and sugar or honey.  Dale Carson's Lakota-style wojapi [1996: 157] has an almost 2 to 1 ratio of berries to sugar.  Hers also calls for minimal water, while a recipe on the NativeTech website for "blueberry wojapi" calls for twice as much water as sugar.  The same holds for a wojapi recipe posted on this multiethnic Nebraska for Life handout of recipes for many ethnic groups in Nebraska (indigenous and immigrant).

You don't necessarily have to add pure white sugar either.  A recipe on the Traditional Indigenous Recipes page of the American Indian Health and Diet Project aims to tackle the double tasks of fighting obesity and diabetes among Native Americans today, and making a more traditional version of the classic Great Plains fruit pudding.  This version, as the site notes,
...was not [traditionally] made with flour or sugar, but today it often is, rendering it only a marginally nutritious dish (even less so if the berries used are frozen “with sugar added”). If the berries you find are ripe and tasty, there is no need to add additional sweeteners. [American Indian Health and Diet Project, date unknown]
Instead of sugar, the recipe calls for honey to sweeten the wojapi, if you need anything at all.  It is this recipe that I decided to use.  Hell, I could use less sugar in my diet, too!

The Recipe: Wojapi (Plains Indian Fruit Pudding) - Sugar-Free Version

To make this version of wojapi you will need:

* fruit (in this case strawberries - I went to a farm not far from work a few months ago and picked these myself - a wide shallow cardboard box for $10 per pound - and I had these beauties waiting in the freezer since then.  This seems like a great use for them.  These two bags of frozen strawberries amounted to roughly 4 to 5 cups).
* water (this is one of the recipes calling for a smaller ratio of water - only a quarter cup)
* cornstarch (if you want to thicken it the faster way, which Mr. Impatient here would prefer)
* honey (to sweeten, literally as needed)

Take your strawberries (and thaw them if they're frozen), and mash them until pulpy.

You will then add the strawberries and water to a large pot, bring to a boil...

...and then simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.

After half an hour it boiled down to this.

While you're simmering it, add some honey to taste.  I added about four spoonfuls, which sweetened it a little bit.

Stir in the honey, and add more to taste if you want.

If this isn't thick enough for you (or me), mix some cornstarch in a little bowl with some water.

Add the cornstarch water to the wojapi and stir it in.  I did this at the end, after I turned it off.

Stir in and serve up!

You could eat the wojapi straight up, or use it as a topping for many things.  Recipes I saw recommended it as a topping for frybread, ice cream or biscuits.  I tried it on freshly made paneer cheese.  This would also go great with Greek yogurt, or on that Czech Christmas bread I just made not long ago.  It is good stuff.  Find something to put it on and eat away.


Abourezk, Kevin.  "Ponca Tribe to honor Milford for historical gesture".  Lincoln Journal Star.  Posted May 29, 2011.

American Indian Health and Diet Project.  "Traditional Indigenous Recipes: Wojapi".  American Indian Health and Diet Project, date unknown.  Copyright 2011, American Indian Health and Diet Project

Carson, Dale. New Native American Cooking.  Random House: New York, 1996.

CzechMate Diary (Tanja, blogger).  "Czech christmas magic: Vanocka / Kouzlo Vanoc: Vanocka".  CzechMate Diary.  Posted December 11, 2008.

Hill, Cheryl Joy.  "Blueberry Wojapi". Indigenous Food and Traditional Recipes.  Date posted unknown.  Copyright 2011 NativeTech.

Nebraska Folklife Network.  "Recipes: Traditional Foods of Nebraska Ethnic Groups".  Date unknown.  Copyright 2011, Nebraska Folklife Network

Nebraska Guide (Nebraska-Guide.Info).  "As American as Apple Pie".  Date unknown.  Copyright 2004-2011, Interatctive Internet Websites, Inc.

NebraskaStudies.Org.  "The Immigrant Experience: The Czechs Move to Nebraska".  The Homestead Act: Who Were The Settlers? From Nebraska Studies.Org, date unknown.

Rader, Jim.  "Brief History of the Reuben Sandwich". The Reuben Realm, date unknown.

Red Star Yeast.  "Vanocka".  Red Star Yeast, date unknown.  Copyright 2011, Red Star Yeast.

Stern, Jane & Michael (  "Runza"., date unknown.  Copyright 2011,

Stradley, Linda.  "Reuben Sandwich - History of Reuben Sandwich".  What's Cooking America (, 2004.

Weisman, Karen.  "Baking a Four-Strand Challah Bread Loaf"., date unknown.  Copyright 2011,

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Nebraska" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Nebraska".