Wednesday, April 24, 2013


For those of you who've never eaten frybread along with a meal or as a dessert topped with honey or maple syrup, you've missed a real treat. And if you're not from the U.S. Southwest, where it's a cultural icon, perhaps you don't even know what Indian frybread is. Basically, frybread is an all-purpose flat bread that's served like biscuits in the East and South or tortillas in the Mexican American parts of the US. But frybread has its own tradition, rooted in Native American history, and is something so easy to prepare and so tasty that you might find yourself hooked on it. Now, that's not such a bad idea at all, especially, if calorie-counting is not on your agenda.

Frybread is a comfort food delight and so good for campfire evenings.
The history of this simple bread is both interesting and sad. It's widespread adoption among Native Americans happened in the mid 19th century. That's when the US government's policy of decimating and displacing tribes left the survivors in areas of the country that didn't have the rich natural resources that had been their heritage for thousands of years.

The U.S. government provided rations of flour, salt and lard and almost nothing else to those that made it through the struggles of forced marches and other travails to end up in reservations. Having so few food choices,  Native American women used what was available, and that's how frybread became a staple food. It was originally baked wrapped around a stick over a campfire and only later became a skillet-cooked food. While the Navajos get most of the credit for popularizing frybread, this kind of flatbread was a common bread on many reservations throughout the U.S. Today, frybread has become a symbol of pan-Indian resilience and, as a cultural unity food, takes table-top honors at Indian powwows. But you don't have to be a powwow-goer to learn to make and enjoy this delicious flatbread.

Today, frybread doesn't usually keep people alive but is a savory addition to meals that gets raves when heaped with combinations of meat, beans, veggies and cheese. Some people call these variations: "Indian tacos." It also makes a wonderful dessert when topped with honey, maple syrup, or jam. Covered with powdered sugar, they taste a lot like cake doughnuts. And it's a great treat for young and old when the dough is wrapped on a stick and cooked over the campfire. Whatever it's uses, it's one of our U.S. ethnic and comfort foods that everyone should try.

And, for those who shy away from the use of lard, vegetable oils and butter make acceptable substitutes. Other potential ingredients include cornmeal, oats and an egg added to the wheat flour. And, however it's made or what it's purpose, frybread is a totally hands-on experience, with kneading as an essential part of the process. Here's a usual recipe.

How to make frybread (recipe is for approximately 10 saucer-sized, flatbread patties).

4 cups of unbleached white flour – OR -- 2 cups of white flour and 2 cups of whole wheat flour)
1 Tbs. baking powder
¾ - 1 tsp. salt
1 ½ cups warm water (2 Tbs. powdered milk can be added)
¾ -1 cup shortening, warmed to room temperature
Extra flour for the bread board and for hands

- Put flour in bowl, add dry ingredients. Stir.
- Mix in warm water to form dough.
- Cover hands in flour.
- Knead dough by hand until soft but not sticky. Cover with a cloth and let stand for 10-15 minutes.
- Shape dough into balls about 2 inches across then flatten them into rounds by patting and stretching the dough. Can also be rolled out on a board.
- Melt a quarter of a cup of shortening in frying pan. When the grease is hot, put just one or two dough patties - at a time - in pan. Fry one side till golden brown, then turn and fry the other. Continue frying, adding a bit more grease as needed, until all the patties are cooked.
- Patties may be drained briefly on a paper towel. Best if served right away.

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