Making the hottest tamales: Foodways of the Choctaw-Apache of Ebarb Wednesday, May 5 2010 

Working on my Thesis:

Food is an important marker of ethnicity, region, and even national identity. It has been used to delineate national and cultural boundaries, and to communicate social prestige or economic wealth. Food can be an integral part of both individual and group identity. Sometimes, foods are simultaneously markers for more than one identity, and sometimes foods create walls or borders for identity.Everywhere food is associated with home, family, and security, but often takes on deeper communicative functions, conveying complex social messages (Anderson 2005: 125-128).

Sabine Parish has a dense geographical distribution of enrolled members of the Choctaw-Apache Tribe of Ebarb, and those eligible for membership in the tribe. The Choctaw-Apache Community has a cultural heritage rich in food traditions, and the tribe recognizes the importance of food as a part of their traditions (Pierotti et al, 1996).  These food traditions have long constituted an important ethnic marker for the community.However, these foodways are understudied, even at “face value”. Academic treatments of the Choctaw-Apache foodways as an investigation of ethnic identity are virtually non-existent.

I am a member of the Choctaw-Apache Tribe, but have lived outside the traditional communities of the tribe for the vast majority of my life. I am a student of history, anthropology and heritage resources and a lifelong food enthusiast. The foundation of this project thesis will be a kind of “food dialogue” between myself and people from the communities of Ebarb, Loring Lake, Grady Hill, Bayou Scie, Coon Ridge as well as the towns of Noble, Zwolle, and Many.

This study builds on Traditional Arts and Crafts in the Choctaw-Apache Community of Ebarb and other relevant studies. The goal is to offer the tribe additional documentation of the foodways of our people, as well as new physical and analytical resources on this important aspect of ethnic identity.

Foodways among the Choctaw-Apache Community Tuesday, May 4 2010 

A review of Traditional Arts in the Choctaw Apache Community of Ebarb (1996).

Tribal members and elders write about themselves, from their own perspective to share with each other and the public. The Choctaw-Apache community has very strong food traditions. Pepper (green pepper and eggs, etc), tamales, sausage (chorizo), and Pondalote Bread. The booklet is the best single source on foodways of the community, and the entries are very compelling.

In addition to food, the booklet features many ancillary categories, including a chapter on hunting and fishing crafts, and another on farming, planting, and butchering. The book also has categories on traditional music, sewing, quilting and other handcrafts, stories and lore, and occupation lore, mostly dealing with the logging industry. Under the broad category chapters (listed above,) the book is arranged by entries by community member.

Oral History Interviews Tuesday, May 4 2010 

I interviewed my great-aunt Margie Remedies in March 2010, for Dr. Dollar’s Oral History class. Margie Remedies grew up outside of Many, and married into the Remedies family, where she quickly learned their foodways. She offers a firsthand account that weaves together both an insider and outsider’s view of those foodways.

Two taped and transcribed  interviews include numerous food preparation and food preservation techniques, as well as informative family vignettes. She explains how to make tamales from scratch: “first you butcher your hog…,” to making homemade ash lye for lying the corn, to spicing the meat, to hand rolling seventy-five dozen tamales.

Preparation of, and eating chili peppers was a key part of family food culture. Fresh (green) and/or dried (red) peppers were eaten at every meal. Peppers were dried by stringing them or laying them out on tin roofs.  Pepper was prepared with eggs; fresh pepper with onions, garlic, and tomatoes, or as a spice in beans or peas.  Aunt Margie explains the preparation of corn and pepper using hand food grinders, and, historically, using a “metat rock.” She tells how to make pigtail gravy and how to make hominy, masa, and tortillas the old way.

I look forward to follow up conversations with her and the opportunity to accompany her on a visit to L& W Tamales, her favorite Tamale supplier in Zwolle. A thesis on foodways seems like a bunch of fun.  But it will inevitably be hard work too!