top of page
  • Ian Thompson

Choctaw Blackberry Dumplings (Indigenous-Style)


It's June. After two summers of drought, seeing the hills and seeps of the farm come alive in a vibrant blanket of green native plants and wildflowers is life-affirming. Out among them, the blackberry fruits are turning from red to purple right now. It's a reminder from the land that this is Hvsh Bissa, Blackberry Month, in the old Choctaw calendar. 8 years ago, we did a post on Blackberry Month that gave a recipe for Choctaw blackberry dumplings hidden somewhere in the text. It's time we did an update.


Walakshi is the Choctaw word for dumplings. It can mean any kind of dumpling, savory or sweat. Today when people hear the word, though, most usually think of grape dumplings. Grape dumplings is a signature Native American desert dish made by Choctaws and people from many other Tribes. The most common version, made from white flour, sugar, and grape juice concentrate, is a great fix for a sweet craving. As one of the dishes served at our wedding, it holds a special place for us, but it is not a very healthy food by any stretch. In reality, it's a translation of an original, Indigenous food dish into the lower quality ingredients available in commodity foods today.


Returning to the Indigenous form, we get not only better nutrition, but also more variety of flavors, and a closer connection with the season and the landscapes around us. A few Choctaw people still make dumplings from wild fruits including blackberries and opossum grapes. Elders and historical sources describe them also being made from maypops, farkleberries (Vaccinium arboreum) and dried peaches. I'm sure that strawberries, huckleberries, blueberries, and just about every other fruit that is native to or growth within Choctaw country could be added to this list.


The following is a recipe for an Indigenous form of Choctaw blackberry dumplings. It utilizes ingredients and cooking implements that come directly from the land. Tips for adapting this dish to a standard kitchen are provided afterwards.


Ingredients

A mid-sized pot of water

3 double handfuls of fresh blackberries

4 double handfuls of dried flour corn with the husks removed

1 double handful of shelled sunflower seeds


Utensils

Clay cooking pot able to hold about 2 gallons

Shallow, fire-safe clay bowl

Sifter basket

Flat basket



Recipe

  1. Place the blackberries in the pot of water and set it on the fire to boil

  2. While that is going, parch the corn. Parching the corn is optional, but it adds a nice depth of flavor to the dish. Also, the dumplings will cook faster if made from it compared to unparched corn. To parch the corn, place it in a shallow clay bowl on the fire.

  3. Drop in some glowing-hot coals

  4. Stir vigorously until the corn kernels start to brown.

  5. When they do, separate the parched corn from the ash and charcoal (This is easy in a river cane sifter basket once the hot coals are removed using split cane tongs).

  6. Grind up the now-cleaned, parched corn and the sunflower seeds together in a wooden mortar and pestle with a small amount of water. Multiple batches will be need to be processed one at a time in the pestle in order to grind up the amount called for in this recipe.

  7. After a batch of the corn and sunflower seeds has been ground, put it into a sifter basket held over a flat basket (see picture). Move the sifter basket back and forth. The small pieces of corn will fall through and into the flat basket underneath. The larger pieces will remain in the sifter basket. Add these to the next batch of corn/sunflower seeds and grind them again

  8. Repeat the above process until all of the corn and sunflower seeds have been finely ground.

  9. Place a double handful of the ground corn/sunflower seed mixture back into the mortar.

  10. By now, the water and black berries should be boiling. Place a ladle-full of the boiling juice onto the ground corn/sunflower seed mixture in the mortar.

  11. Use the pestle to mix them all together. The hot juice partially cooks the corn, making it sticky enough to form dough.

  12. Being careful not to burn your hands, pull out small pieces of the hot, purple-colored dough and form them into dumplings 1 inch square and about 1/4 inch thick (title image). Note- if the parched corn is ground very finely and the juice is very hot, the corn particles can become soft and edible at this stage. The dumplings in this state are delicious, something like a modern energy bar.

  13. Drop the dumplings into the boiling juice, making sure they are fully covered by it.

  14. Continue until all of the corn / sunflower seed meal has been made into dumplings.

  15. Stirring occasionally, the simmering dish will be done in half an hour.

  16. Remove from fire.




Hints for a standard kitchen

  1. Goya brand Giant White corn works well as a substitute for Choctaw flour corn. A bag and a half will make a big dish of dumplings (like for a potluck).

  2. The corn can be parched in a dry skillet on top of the stove, but be prepared for some smoke (Open a window and / or turn on a fan).

  3. The corn and sunflower seeds can be ground up in a food processor. If finely ground, no sifter or flat baskets are needed.

  4. Gathering wild fruit with the family is a big part of the fun with this dish. If that's not possible, you can substitute a bag of frozen blackberries





The Indigenous form of Choctaw food is beautiful - from the high quality ingredients harvested on the local landscape, to the food preparation implements shaped from the same land. These dishes are the product of generations of cultural and culinary know-how. You can sense this in a bite of Indigenous walakshi. It's subtly sweet, with hints of nutty flavor from the parched corn. The sunflower seeds provide a richness than helps this food stick to your ribs through afternoon of physical activity. The recipe above can be used with almost any kind of fruit, not just blackberries. We enjoy this dish at our house, and we hope you that may too.




In Memoriam - This post is dedicated to Terry and Virginia. Terry Ashby was a Choctaw cultural warrior, a mentor and a good-hearted friend who was widely respected in the community and beyond. Last week, he and Virginia, his wife, were here on the Farm giving up their holiday for Terry to mentor Choctaw youth. In the mad dash of getting things ready for the next teaching session, I didn't even properly say hello or goodbye to them. Terry and Virginia were taken from us suddenly, yesterday afternoon. This is a terrible, terrible loss for the community. It seemed they still had decades of time left. After the current moment passes, their friends and family may one day find some consolation in seeing Terry and Virginia live on in the many people they invested a part of themselves in. Today is not that day.

212 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comentarios


bottom of page