By Amy Crowell
When Europeans first came to Texas, the Tonkawas were the major Native American group that resided in our area. They hunted many things such as buffalo, deer, rabbit and turkey, and in lean times, skunk, opossum and a variety of bugs. They relied on foraged plants throughout the year, though, and migrated from river bottoms to high ground to take advantage of seasonal harvests from berry or fruit patches.
And though the men hunted and the women were the primary foragers and food preparers, the essential cooperation between hunter and gatherer was instrumental to survival.
In the fall, the Tonkawas gathered acorns, mesquite beans and pecans. Acorns had to be cracked, ground into nut meal then soaked in water to leach out bitter tannins before they could be used in breads or other dishes. Mesquite trees were more common in South and West Texas, but the beans were used as a minor food here in Central Texas. Pecans were one of the most important foraged foods, eventually becoming valuable as a trade item as settlers arrived. Prickly pear fruits, or tunas, and wild plums, blackberries and grapes were also commonly eaten. Tunas were even dried into fruit leather, stored and eaten throughout the year.
The Tonkawas, like most Native American groups, made a valuable, high-energy food called pemmican. Originally a word for rendered fat, pemmican quickly spread from group to group and evolved into a highly nutritious, calorie-dense food that blended dried or raw meat, nut or grain meal, animal fat and dried fruits. In Central Texas, the recipe included dried venison mixed with seasonal foraged foods. Pemmican could be considered the original energy bar or trail mix and was often used on long treks or outings because it was easy to pack and would keep for several months. It combines both hunted and gathered foods—making it the symbolic marriage between the two essential ways of eating.
AMY'S VEGETARIAN PEMMICAN
Makes 8 to 10 muffin rounds
I couldn’t bring myself to blend raw meat and lard, but I loved the idea of creating my own modern version of pemmican. I decided to create a wild, vegetarian version of the traditional food, and the result was more akin to a granola bar, delicious and very kid-friendly.
½ c. pecan meal (ground pecans)
¹/8 c. mesquite meal
½ c. rolled oats
¼ c. dried fruit (use almost any fruit—good wild fruits include
mulberries, blackberries, agaritas and dried mountain grapes)
3 T. melted butter
2 T. honey
Preheat the oven to 325°. Mix the pecan meal, mesquite meal, oats and fruit together in a bowl. Blend the egg, butter and honey in another bowl and slowly pour over the dry mixture, stirring well to completely coat the dry ingredients. Press the mixture into muffin tins—filling each cup about half-full. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool and store in airtight containers.