The chiltepin is a tiny, powerfully spicy chile that’s the genetic grandparent of nearly every chile varietal cultivated in the United States. It’s a living emblem of how Indigenous ingredients formed the bedrock of American foodways.
But the history of the chiltepin — and that of the Indigenous people in the Southwest who grow it — isn’t well documented in mainstream food media.
“A Gathering Basket,” a new cookbook, aims to do the work of telling the stories behind Indigenous foods like the chiltepin. There have been several cookbooks published about Indigenous foodways, but this one — helmed by the Indigenous chef organization I-Collective — stands apart for being written by Indigenous people for their community.
“There is such a missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to Indigenous cooking,” said M. Karlos Baca, a lead writer for “A Gathering Basket.” “The narrative that has been pushed is that we were wandering the lands and just barely sustaining ourselves,” when in reality Indigenous people have centuries of rich and innovative food traditions.
“A Gathering Basket” is not a traditional cookbook. It comprises digital issues of recipes, essays and embedded videos, with their release coinciding with the start of each moon cycle. A virtual discussion will be timed to every issue. A print publication is planned for late next year.
“Being able to create this multimedia platform allows for constant growth,” said Mx. Baca, 45, who is Dinè and Nuchu and lives in Mancos, Colo. “It is a living document, and it is always able to expand and grow, just like our foodways and our recipes.” A virtual platform can also reach more people than a printed cookbook.
The I-Collective is also fund-raising independently, rather than working with a publisher. The organization received $50,000 in support from the Food and Farm Communications Fundand the First Nations Development Institute, and also started a GoFundMe pagethat has raised more than $5,000.Subscriptions will cost $30 for five issues, with scholarships to fund access for Indigenous people who cannot afford it.
“Control over your own narrative is really important,” and that’s harder to do when stakeholders outside the community are involved, Mx. Baca, 45, added.
The “for us, by us” approach was particularly important to Kristina Stanley, 38, the project manager for “A Gathering Basket,” who is Anishinaabe, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior, and a pastry chef and business owner in Appleton, Wis.
“When we are talking about especially culturally specific or traditional recipes,” said Mx. Stanley, “because there are so many factors that are infused into the production of said things” — from what’s growing locally to the ceremonies associated with certain foods — “some knowledge is just not meant for other communities, or outside communities.”
Devoting an entire publication to Indigenous foodways is also a way to showcase the sheer diversity of these communities, which is much harder with a single story, or a static cookbook, they added.
The first issue, out Monday, centers on a recipe for Popsicles — but it’s actually about the ingredients. In a series of essays, Mx. Baca discusses the history of the chiltepin; how some refer to three leaf sumac as a squawberry, using a derogatory term for Indigenous people; and why yucca is an essential crop not just for food, but for making soap, thread and shoes. There’s an embedded video of different Indigenous people saying the term for three leaf sumac in Hopi, Dinè, Ute and Apache. A live discussion on Indigenous food sovereignty was also held Monday.
Future issues will highlight the Walleye War,a conflict that began in the late 20th century, when Indigenous people had to fight to uphold their treaty fishing rights, and for the rematriation of Indigenous food varietals, like the Taos Pueblo squash.
Quentin Glabus, 41, the head of video production, and a member of the Frog Lake Cree First Nation, said he hoped “A Gathering Basket” would inspire other Indigenous people to codify their traditions so future generations could partake in them.
“A lot of the knowledge was taught through storytelling and practice,” he said. “It wasn’t written or documented.”
The I-Collective may soon have a larger platform to help with that codification. A long-term goal for the organization is to establish a publishing imprint for Indigenous-authored cookbooks.
The hope, through all of this, is “changing that narrative of Native peoples as service recipients,” Mx. Stanley said, to one in which they’re seen instead “as empowered knowledge holders.”
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