• By Kirk Gaw

Fried Green Tomatoes And Other Local Native American Recipes

We know that Potwatomi Chief Mixsawbah lived on the Grand Kankakee Marsh 2 miles west of Walkerton. The tribe ruled the path that became the Plymouth / LaPorte Trail for centuries. They knew and loved this land. They fished, trapped, hunted, and picked the wild cranberries and blueberries that sprinkled the marsh. They even encountered the Spanish and French who brought missionaries to explored the Kankakee marshlands during the 1600's / 1700's. They battled using the Native Americans for control of the fertile Kankakee Marshlands and St. Joseph River Valley.

Using their dugout canoes, they plied the waters of the Kankakee, camping on small wooded islands which dotted the marsh. The Potawatomi had several temporary village sites throughout which they used on a seasonal basis. In summer they shunned the mosquito-plagued marshes and moved to higher ground or to the dune country along Lake Michigan. A complicated web of interconnecting trails tied their domain together.

This area is still considered the 3rd largest wildlife refuge in North America. It is plentiful with bio-diversity. The Native Americans and early European settlers were able to use the local ingredients to ply hearty recipes. You too can enjoy the distinct tastes that those inhabitants cooked since 400 + years ago. After thorough research conducted by Priscilla Mullin Sherard in 1975. She put together several books reflecting the diets passed down from generations.

One surprise that caught my eye was Fried Green Tomatoes.

Here is my recipe:

Fried Green Tomatos

  • 3/4 cup self rising flour.

  • 1/4 cup cornmeal.

  • 1/4 tsp salt.

  • 1/4 tsp pepper.

  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (or substitute regular milk)

  • 3-4 green tomatoes sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds.

  • Animal fat or bacon grease for frying (or peanut oil).

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, and buttermilk. Use a fork to mix the ingredients into a pancake-like batter. Use more buttermilk to thin the batter, if needed.

  2. Heat 2 inches of oil in a skillet until hot enough to fry. Dip tomato slices in batter, letting the excess batter drip back into the bowl. Put the dipped slices immediately into the frying pan. The oil should sizzle strongly but not pop when the tomatoes hit the oil-- if the oil pops or splatters, it's too hot. Let it cool down a bit before proceeding.

  3. Fry the tomato slices in batches of 4 or 5 at a time (don't crowd the pan) for 2-3 minutes per side, turning carefully with tongs when the coating turns golden brown.

  4. Transfer to a colander or wire cooling rack to drain. To keep the tomatoes from getting soggy before they're served, I recommend standing them up like wheels in the serving dish instead of stacking them.

  5. Fried green tomatoes are best eaten fresh out of the frying pan, they will become soggy fast if you don't enjoy them within a few minutes of frying.

Menwaagomig - aka "Chippewa Juice"


  • 4 cups ice water

  • 1 cup fruit (Strawberries, Blackberries, or any fresh juicy berry)

  • 4 teaspoons honey

1. Crush and strain the berries with a sieve or with a cheese cloth bag. Smaller berries without as much natural juice may have to be heated some.

2. Combine the strained berry juice and the ice water then stir in the honey.

3. Enjoy this healthy refreshing drink!

Catfish Filet With Pine Nuts For 4


  • 1⁄4cup pine nuts, plus

  • 2tablespoons pine nuts

  • 1⁄2cup yellow cornmeal

  • 1⁄4cup flour

  • 1teaspoon salt

  • 1⁄2teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1⁄4teaspoon ground cumin

  • 4catfish fillets

  • 1⁄4cup vegetable oil

  1. Preheat oven to 350.

  2. Spread pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast in oven for about 5 minutes or until golden brown.Cool.

  3. Grind 1/4 cup of pine nuts and reserve remaining for garnish.

  4. Mix ground pine nuts,cornmeal, flour, salt, cayenne pepper and cumin in a shallow dish.

  5. Dredge fillets in the pine nut mixture.Set aside.

  6. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry catfish fillets two at a time in the hot oil for 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork .

  7. Sprinkle fillets with whole pine nuts and serve.

The 3 Sisters Squash

The sisters in this recipe are the Native American staples beans, corn and squash, which together offer a delicious main course for vegan diners.


  • 3 Acorn or other winter squash

  • 3 cups Black beans, cooked

  • 2 cups Broccoli florets

  • 2 cups Corn, kernels

  • 3 cloves Garlic

  • 1/2 cup Parsley, fresh

  • 1 cup Red onion

  • 2 Serrano chiles

  • 1 1/2 cups Wild or brown rice, cooked1 tsp Paprika

  • 1 Salt and pepper

  • 1 tbsp peanut oil

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine olive oil and 1/3 of the minced garlic in a small bowl; set aside.

  2. Remove stem from winter squash and cut each in half from top to bottom. They are called winter squash because their tough outer rind allows them to keep through the winter months. Carve out seeds and reserve for another use. Brush inside of each squash with the garlic oil. Place squash flesh side up on a baking sheet and roast for about 35 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, prepare the filling: Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and chile and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the remaining garlic, the beans, the corn, the broccoli and the rice, if using. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until corn is bright yellow and broccoli is bright green. Stir in parsley, paprika, salt and pepper and continue to cook for about a minute. Adjust seasonings if needed.

  4. Remove squash from oven. Scoop corn and bean mixture fillingt into center of each squash.

  5. Serve.

Fry Bread


  • 2 cups flour

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 cup milk

  • Vegetable oil for deep frying

Honey-Corn Butter

1 cup salted butter, divided

1/2 cup high-quality, whole-kernel canned corn

2 tablespoons clover honey

1/4 teaspoon salt


Fry Bread: Sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together into bowl.

Lightly stir in milk.

Add more flour as necessary to make a dough that can be handled.

Turn dough out onto floured surface, and knead and work dough with floured hands until smooth.

Pinch off fist-size lumps and shape into disks. Each will have its own characteristic shape. (Shape affects the taste because of how it fries.)

For Indian tacos, disk must be rather flat with a depression, almost a hole in the center of both sides. Make it that way also if fry bread will have sauce over it. Smaller, round disks are for serving on plates.

Deep-fry in vegetable oil (about 375 degrees F) until golden and done on both sides, about 5 minutes.

Drain on absorbent paper toweling.

Honey-Corn Butter: Place all ingredients except 1/4 cup of the butter in food processor and process until smooth.

Add remaining butter and process a moment or two.Serve with warm fry bread.

Makes 8 to 10 small disks or 5 large ones for Indian tacos; about 1 cup Honey-Corn Butter.

Source: Executive Chef Michael Durham - Fire Pit Sports Bar and Grill - Potawatomi Casino Restaurants

The culinary legacy of this area is dynamic. The peaceful Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potowatomi farmed crops harvesting corn, beans, wild rice, and squash. They planted fast harvests for the temperate climate. Their agrarian lifestyle lasted for centuries. During the 1680's the French under the direction of King Louis XIV sent Jesuits along with Père Claude-Jean Allouez to establish a settlement. The intention was to control the indigenous people and steal their lands for European settlement. The King of France knew about the plentiful fur trade and farming conditions written from early traders who passed through the Kankakee and St. Joseph River Valleys. Also, the Spanish and British knew.

The French later named the post Fort St. Joseph. It had a French garrison of 10 soldiers, a commandant, blacksmith, Catholic priest, interpreter, and 15 additional households. It was home Captain Louis Coulon de Villiers, who was stationed at Fort St. Joseph. Louis Coulon de Villiers vowed revenge for his brother's death after the first battle of the French and Indian War. The French struggled to maintain their position at that nearby location. The British eventually flew their flag at Fort St. Joseph after the British defeated the French during The Seven Year War and the French transferred power to them.

Next, Fort St. Joseph was captured by Odawa warriors on May 25, 1763, during Pontiac's Rebellion. They killed most of the British 15-man garrison outright, and took the commander, Ensign Francis Schlosser, captive. They took him to Detroit to be ransomed as a prisoner, as was common practice for higher-ranking men. After Pontiac's Rebellion was suppressed, the British maintained the fort as a trading post, but did not garrison it again until 1779, during the American Revolutionary War. Lots of culture and cooking during that time?

During the war, the British used Fort St. Joseph to equip the Miami, Potawatomi, and other American Indians who were their allies in the war against the rebellious Continentals. In 1780 Americans from Cahokia, Illinois, led by Jean-Baptiste Hamelin and Lt. Thomas Brady, raided the fort. The British Lt. Dagreaux Du Quindre led forces after the raiding party; he overtook and defeated them near Petit Fort (in present-day Indiana).

After the defeat of Hamelin's party, two Milwaukee chiefs,

El Heturnò and Naquiguen, traveled to Spanish-held St. Louis; they arrived on 26 December 1780, to report the failed raid. They asked for assistance to raid the fort again. Don Francisco Cruzat, Commandant of St. Louis, dispatched the militia Captain Don Eugenio Pouré with 60 volunteers and Native allies. The force also included Ensign Charles Tayon and the interpreter Louis Chevalier.

The Spanish and Native force travelled via the Illinois River and Kankakee River to modern Dunns Bridge, Indiana. There they turned northeast and marched overland to Fort St. Joseph. Before the Spanish and their allies attacked the fort, they promised the Potawatomi half the bounty if they would remain neutral. Captain Pouré took Fort St. Joseph by surprise on 12 February 1781 by racing across the frozen river and taking the fort before the defenders could go to arms.

He had the Spanish colors raised and claimed Fort St. Joseph and the St. Joseph River for Spain. His troops plundered the fort for one day, distributing the goods among natives before departing. Lt. Dagneau de Quindre arrived the next day, but was unable to persuade his native allies to pursue the raiders. The Spanish returned to St. Louis on 6 March without incident. Pouré delivered the British flag to Cruzat.

Some historians have described the attack as Spanish retaliation for the British attack on St. Louis in the previous year.

When Cruzat wrote about it to Governor Gálvez, he justified the raid as needing to appear strong to his Native allies, and to forestall British actions in the region. Although Cruzat treated the raid as an act of Indian affairs, the looting and destruction of goods held at Fort St. Joseph also dissuaded a second British attack into Spanish territory.

The British finally abandoned the fort after the United States victory in the Northwest Indian War and the signing of Jay's Treaty in 1795. The fort gradually fell into ruin and was overgrown. Based on its Fort St. Joseph expedition, Spain claimed lands east of the Mississippi River, but this was not recognized by the United States. With the signing of Pinckney's Treaty (1795) with the US, Spain gave up any claim of land east of the Mississippi.

Because of the long dispute over the land, the diplomats Benjamin Franklin and John Jay considered the Spanish campaign at Fort St. Joseph to have been little more than a ploy to claim the Northwest Territory. Franklin warned they want to "shut us up within the Appalachian Mountains."

Pothunters in the late 1800s recovered hundreds of artifacts from the fort site, which are now displayed in the Fort St. Joseph Museum in Niles. They include "trade silver, musket parts, glass beads, buttons, gunflints, knife blades, and door hinges." The specific location of the 15-acre fort site was forgotten, and part of it is likely underwater since a dam downriver raised the water level.

The site was not rediscovered until an archeological survey in 1998. Support the Fort, a local interest group founded in 1992, has helped sponsor a major archeological excavation on site, which began in 2002.

The team from Western Michigan University (WMU) has conducted a public archeology program as the project has developed. A total of 10,000 visitors have attended the annual two-day field school. WMU's related activities have included workshops for graduate students and volunteers, three week-long training programs for middle school and high school teachers, and community outreach, including biweekly lectures at the library.

The seasonal excavations have uncovered rare artifacts, such as a 1730s Jesuit religious medallion, one of only two found in North America. In December 2010 the team made a critical find of a foundation wall and two wooden posts of one of the buildings, helping establish its scale.

Support the Fort has arranged related annual living history exhibits and re-enactments, featuring elements of Odawa, Potowatomi, French, British and American life at the fort and in the region. In the future, they intend to construct a replica of the fort. It will include space to interpret the artifacts found through controlled excavation. This was the only fort in Michigan to have been under the flags of four nations: France, Great Britain, Spain, and the United States.

It was always a multicultural site, a meeting and trading place for the ethnic Europeans with the Potowatomi, Odawa, and Ojibwe nations. This is quite a history for the Walkerton - Niles, Michigan - St. Joseph / Kankakee Valley area.

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