According to Joanne Kitto, you can't talk about Dakota culture without talking about fry bread. She demonstrated how to make it at the Redwood Falls Public Library last week.
Joanne Kitto remembers as a young girl sitting and watching her grandmother cook.
While she is willing to admit now she probably was not paying as much attention to what she should have been learning from her grandmother, much of it must have soaked in, because those lessons have now become part of how she cooks.
Kitto talked about and made food at the Redwood Falls Public Library this past week as part of a month-long focus on the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War. Presentations centered on the history of the war but also provided those in attendance a better understanding of the Dakota culture.
Food is a major part of that culture, and according to Kitto no one can talk about Dakota food without including discussion about fry bread.
Fry bread, she said, is a staple for the Dakota family.
In fact, she said with a laugh, her grandmother told her she must learn to make fry bread, because her husband would expect it and might have “reason for divorce” without it.
According to Kitto, fry bread is actually a Navajo invention.
“It’s a sad story,” she said. “In 1860 Kit Carson raided the Nav-ajo in Arizona, and 7,000 of them were forced to walk to Fort Sumner (New Mexico).”
As prisoners, those American Indians were given rations, but as has been the case historically, the food they were given was not all that substantial. Among the items doled out was flour and lard, which was then used to make the first fry bread.
Over the years, the recipe has been im-proved, said Kitto, who said it was a staple for the Dakota, as flour and lard were also maj-or items in the commo-dities they were given by the government.
Life is about adapting to your surroundings, said Kitto, and fry bread is a perfect example of how the American Indian did just that.
When it comes to the actual recipe for fry bread, Kitto said she does not use exact measurements, and based on her grandmother’s recipe it is about how it looks.
“My grandmother told me we had hands long before there were any utensils,” Kitto said, adding her measurements are often based on hands full of different ingredients.
The fry bread recipe Kitto uses includes flour and liquid oil as major ingredients, with a “palm full” of sugar also included.
She uses a yeast recipe, although others use baking powder instead. Kitto explained the use of yeast or baking powder was one of the improvements made to the fry bread recipe over the years.
One of the most important lessons Kitto said she learned from her grandmother is to never do any cooking when you are angry, because she said those emotions can come through in the end product.
Kitto said it takes a while to get the feel of what the dough is supposed to look like, adding she has learned in life if you want something to turn out you just need to keep working at it.
Kitto said she often makes a huge batch of dough and bakes regular bread as part of the process.
In addition to being able to try the fry bread, Kitto brought soups and a blueberry dessert.
One of the soups is based on what is known as the three sisters – corn, beans and squash – which have traditionally been staple foods for the Dakota. Those three items are often grown together in Dakota gardens, because they can co-exist.
Research has also shown much of one’s daily nutritional needs are met in those three food items.
Kitto said she cooks because she enjoys it, especially when she knows she is cooking for other people.
That is another of those lessons she learned from her grandmother.
Kitto’s presentation at the library was made possible through funds granted through the legacy amendment.