Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Oklahoma I - Oh, I'm just WILD about onions! (or "Two Cherokee eggs and pin a rose on 'em!")

Our next stop on the state food tour is the Sooner State, part South, part West, part Southwest, and a smidgen of Midwest.  But alas, no weird dream sequences or no surries with fringes on top here.  This is all edible.  OK?

Official Name: State of Oklahoma
State Nicknames: The Sooner State
Admission to the US: November 16, 1907 (#46)
Capital: Oklahoma City (largest)
Other Important Cities: Tulsa (2nd largest), Norman (3rd largest), Broken Arrow (4th largest)
Region: Southwest, South, West; West South Central (US Census)
RAFT NationsCorn Bread & BBQBison
Bordered by: Kansas (north), Missouri (northeast), Arkansas (east), Texas & the Red River (south), New Mexico (west), Colorado (northwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: buffalo (animal), milk (beverage), white bass (fish), raccoon (furbearer animal), strawberry (fruit), white-tail deer (game animal), wild turkey (game bird), honeybee (insect - for the honey), watermelon (vegetable); "Fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecue pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicken fried steak, pecan pie, and black-eyed peas" (meal - quoted from
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Southern foods (qv, Official State Meal), sometimes with a Western or Southwestern flavor; Native American (specifically Cherokee) foods

Like many Western states, Oklahoma's cuisine has a frontier history.  But this is just part of the story.  As Hilde Gabriel-Lee (quoted on the Food Timeline website) notes in Taste of the States: A Food History of America (note to self: smack yourself for not tracking this down before you started this project), before the 1900's Oklahoma cuisine was more or less Great Plains cuisine: the foods of the five largest tribes in Indian Territory, "the Creek, Choctaw, Chicksaw, Cherokee, and Seminole" [Lee 1992, in].  These cultures (particularly the Cherokee) were refugees from Back East, having been forced to march to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears along which thousands of persons lost their lives.  Their homelands were cleared for white settlement, and the Native peoples were sent to less familiar, less hospitable areas along the border with Mexico, what would later become Texas (note: check out the Cherokee Nation website for more history of the Trail of Tears).  After relocation, the Cherokee and other forcibly relocated peoples made Oklahoma their home long past the early 20th century, when Oklahoma too was opened to white settlement.

According to the Indian Pioneer Papers, a volume of thousands of interviews published in 1936, Cherokee grew what they could, but did hunt for everything from squirrel to deer to the very occasional buffalo, as one Jennie Hines noted in an interview [Cherokee Nation, 2011]:
Bean bread could be found at almost every table. Hominy, dried corn, dried fruits, and wild meats were their chief food. They did not can much food. There were no fruit jars in this country yet. They usually dried their fruits and meats. [Hines, in Cherokee Nation, date unknown]
The Cherokee, and for that matter many Native peoples in eastern Oklahoma, gathered wild onions as a social activity [Cherokee Nation, 2011].  One popular but easy recipe on the Cherokee Nation website involves a few wild onions, a few eggs, some bacon grease and some water.

The Recipe: Cherokee Wild Onions and Scrambled Eggs

To make this dish, you will need:

* wild onions (yes, I know there are wild onions in this area, as Chef Jerry Pellegrino reminded up on a recent installment of WYPR's Radio Kitchen.  But I haven't had any chance to go rooting around for them.  I did, however, have some green onions that I grew in my garden.  Not wild onions, but at least I actually yanked them out of the ground instead of buying them)
* eggs - for every half cup of wild onions you need about six or seven eggs.  I had a quarter cup of onions, so I grabbed three eggs)
* bacon grease (had just enough)

First, chop or cut up your wild or green onions.

Melt the bacon grease in a pan.  I used my cast iron skillet.

Add the onions to the pan.

Also add a small amount of water (I just eyeballed it), and fry up the onions in the pan until the water is gone and the onions are soft.

Add the eggs...

... and scramble until cooked through.

This is quite a simple and lovely dish.  I can't say I have ever really scrambled eggs with green onions in them but it is a technique I will try again in the future.  Not much more to say about this.

Cherokee Nation.  "More About Cherokee Cooking".  The Official Site of the Cherokee Nation, 2011.  Copyright 2011 the Cherokee Nation, All Rights Reserved.

Cherokee Nation.  "Wild Onions and Scrambled Eggs".   The Official Site of the Cherokee Nation, 2011.  Copyright 2011 the Cherokee Nation, All Rights Reserved.

Drummond, Ree.  The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl.  Willliam Morrow: New York, 2009.

Lee, Hilde Gabriel.  Taste of the States: A Food History of America.  Howell Press: Charlottesville, VA, 1992.  Quoted on the Food Timeline State Foods website.  "Oklahoma State Symbols, Songs and Emblems".  Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Yearwood, Trisha, with Gwen Yearwood and Beth Yearwood Bernard. Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen: Recipes from My Family to YoursClarkson Potter: New York, 2008.

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