|Rolley Rhodes, Christy’s grandfather, was born in North Carolina in 1888. Rolley Len is his namesake.|
Family Time in Cherokee
Carolina has been on our mind - North Carolina, specifically. My husband Jason and I both have ties to the state from our childhood and beyond. My family history traces back to North Carolina on my father’s side, and we also visited the state a lot in the fall and winter months. Jason’s family went to River Valley Campground in Cherokee at the end of every summer for years. Jason and I visited in summer and winter together before the children were born, but, as sometimes happens when you have babies, we got busy and have not been back to the mountains, yet. This past spring, Jason’s mother decided it was time for all three of her grandkids to continue the tradition.
Between the nine of us, children included, school and work schedules were consulted and a date was chosen. It would be a long weekend at the end of July with a pop-up camper and two tents next to the water. Rolley Len has been especially excited about the trip north.
She came to me one night and exclaimed, "We are going to sleep in a tent, ride inner tubes down the river and see REAL Indians!"
Rolley Len has always shown an interest in hearing stories about the past, especially from her namesake, Pawpaw R.J. Her first name originated in 1888 when my grandfather Rolley Rhodes was born in North Carolina. I assumed that my great-grandparents had intended for my grandfather to be named after the city of Raleigh, but I have never heard for sure. My Grandpa Rolley’s grandmother was Cherokee.
My father spent time in Cherokee during his childhood and visited relatives who lived there. His mama and daddy would load him and his sister and two brothers into the back of a pickup (with a mattress in the back) and drove from Woodland to Cherokee, N.C., to visit family. Although my own Cherokee family is now limited to my immediate family, I still want my children to have an understanding of what life was and is like for Native Americans.
I realize, even though Rolley Len’s mother and pawpaw are "real Indians," we don’t really count because we don’t live a Native American lifestyle. While visiting Cherokee, Jason and I took the kids to the Cherokee Bonfire on the Oconaluftee River. The experience included storytellers and dancers in Cherokee ceremonial dress of the 18th and 19th century. For so many children, and some adults, what they imagine may be completely different from reality. Being able to see and hear the stories and dances had a huge impact on Rolley Len and Cason’s understanding of what Native American life was like.
One thing familiar to us in the South is that most of the foods Native Americans ate are what we eat now every day. Besides deer, fish and turkey, they relied on locally grown vegetables, fruits and nuts. The importance of corn to Native Americans can be seen repeatedly in stories told throughout the United States and South America. White and yellow corn have prominent roles in creation myths of how the world came to exist and origin myths of the first man and woman on Earth. Today, corn and cornmeal continue to be staples in our Southern diet.
This month, in honor of our trip to Cherokee, I am sharing four recipes with you that have cornmeal as a key ingredient. All of the recipes have Native American roots and, if you love cornbread as much as my family does, try one of them at your next meal.
Bean Balls (like a veggie-"meatball")
2 cups brown beans
4 cups cornmeal
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Boil beans in salted water. In a large bowl, mix cornmeal, flour and baking soda. Drain beans and reserve the bean juice. Add beans to dry mixture. Add enough of the bean juice to mixture so that you can knead together into a stiff dough. Roll into balls and drop into a pot of boiling water. Reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Squash Bread (like a misshapen hush puppy)
2 summer squash, diced
1 cup cornmeal
¼ cup buttermilk
¾ cup water (reserved from water used to boil squash)
Boil squash in a pot. Drain water, but reserve ¾ cup. Return reserved water to pot of squash. Add cornmeal, egg and buttermilk to the pot and mix well. Drop spoonfuls into hot oil and fry until golden brown.
Cornmeal Drop Cookies
¾ cup margarine
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cup flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup raisins (optional)
Cream together margarine and sugar. Add egg and vanilla and blend together well. Add flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and raisins. Mix well. Drop by tablespoonful on a greased cookie sheet. Cook at 350° for about 15 minutes.
Fried Green Tomatoes
4 large green tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper, to taste
2 cups cornmeal
Slice green tomatoes into ½ inch slices (or thinner) and sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 10 minutes, then blot with paper towels and sprinkle with pepper. Dip each tomato slice into cornmeal coating each side.
Heat oil in a large skillet. When heated, add tomato slices to oil and fry on both sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
Note: My mother-in-law cuts her tomato slices thinner than ½ inch and the end results are crunchy deliciousness.
Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.