FOODS OF THE SEMINOLES
This sweet scented fruit with an agreeable flavor can be found in the Everglades. In the same genus as the Soursop, common names include pond apple, alligator apple (so called because American alligators often eat the fruit), swamp apple, corkwood, bobwood, and monkey apple. The tree is native to Florida, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and West Africa. It grows in swamps, is tolerant of saltwater, and cannot grow in dry soil. The fruit is edible for humans and its taste is reminiscent of ripe Honeydew melon.
Pumpkins, were a favorite food of the Seminole. They cultivated different types of pumpkins and squash. The green Seminole Pumpkin is native to the southern shores of Lake Okeechobee. They would plant it as the base of a dead oak tree and let the vine climb and fruit off the ground. The plant would then grow all over the hammock reseeding itself. A Seminole Pumpkin will store for several months even in hot weather if it has good ventilation. There are many ways to prepare a native Florida pumpkin; boiled or baked, used as a vegetable, dried and ground into a flour for bread, young shoots and leaves cooked as greens, flowers with pistils removed cooked and eaten. They can also be stuffed. The seeds are edible, and can be roasted and ground into gruel.
Early in the morning, before the midday heat, the thump, thump, thump of the women pounding corn could be heard. After being pounded to a coarse grain, the corn was made into Sofkee. Corn was not eaten until after the Green Corn Dance. In May, when the first corn is fit for boiling, the whole tribe gathers for the Green Corn Dance. Men will purge themselves with '"black drink." All fires are extinguished and a new fire is started to cook green corn. It is a large ceremony with dancing, gaiety and sports such as stickball.
In a traditional camp, Seminoles would keep a pot of Sofkee (soaked corn gruel) on the fire for the family to eat throughout the day as meals weren’t always at set times everyday. A drink from the large bowl of the Sofkee spoon would hold them over till the next meal shared with the family. Sofkee is the Creek word for the drink and Okthee in the Miccosukee language. Corn was pounded into a coarse, cracked flour, soaked in weak lye water obtained from wood ash and then cooked for 3-4 hours. To some, it is sour to the taste, indicating the corn is fermented. This soaking process alleviated the risk of illness from lack of niacin. By cooking the watery corn gruel so long, the niacin has more opportunity to be released.
The Seminoles began raising cattle and pigs shortly after the first Spanish arrived. By 1775 the Seminoles were working 7,000 to 10,000 head of cattle on Paynes Prairie using trained cow dogs. Continued aggressions between the Seminoles and white settlers over cattle and grazing lands contributed to starting the Second and Third Seminole Wars. A new era of Seminole cattle ranching began in the 1930s. The Tribe established the Indian Livestock Association in 1939. In 1944, they created separate cattle enterprises for Brighton and Big Cypress. Seminoles banded with other Native American stockmen in 1974 to form the National American Indian Cattlemen's Association. Today, the Seminole Tribe is one of Florida's leading beef producers.
GREEN SEA TURTLE
Sea turtles are generally found in fairly shallow waters (except when migrating) inside reefs, bays, and inlets. They are attracted to lagoons and shoals with an abundance of marine grass and algae. These turtles were considered very tasty by the early Seminoles. 19th century settlers commented that the best divers in the Gulf of Mexico were the Seminole Indians who were expert in spotting sea turtles. In recent decades, sea turtles have moved from unrestricted exploitation to global protection, with individual countries providing additional protection, although serious threats remain.
MANATEE & ALLIGATOR
No longer hunted by the Seminole Tribe, the manatee was once a prized and hunted source of food. Manatee were almost always hunted by shotgun, but sometimes speared in the creeks and inlets of the Florida coastline. The Seminole would “fire-hunt” alligators at night by using a burning torch. The blinded and bewildered alligator would then be speared by a hunter in a canoe.
HUNTING, FISHING, COOKING
UNIQUE COOKING FIRES
It was common practice among the Seminoles to push logs, formed in a wheel-spoke circle, toward the fire as they burned. From "Notes on the Florida Seminole" by Alanson Skinner in the American Anthropologist Vol. 15, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1913), "In the center of this space is the cook-house, in which a fire is constantly burning. It is kept up in a curious way. Large cypress logs are cut and laid under the cook-house, radiating from a common center like the spokes of a wheel. At the 'hub' the fire is lighted, and as the wood burns it is constantly shoved inward and hence never needs to be cut into short lengths. At this fire, the only one in the camp, the women cook for the entire village."
Shown here is a nineteenth century Seminole kettle, which was balanced on or in-between the logs of a star fire. The camp might also have a large iron grill/grate with wooden supports to fit over the fire for cooking. The kettles were usually kept on a simmer all day so family members could snack on sofkee between meals.
Due to the area of the state where they lived, Seminole culture depended on a healthy ecosystem. They relied on what nature provided. Fishing in the swamps and rivers provided nutrition to balance the mostly starch diet. Freshwater species readily available in the Everglades, and along the coastal zones, include; gar, catfish, carp, bass, eel, and pickerel. Either from a shoreline or from a dugout canoe, the Seminole used bow and arrow, or spear to fish. Line fishing was not common until the mid-20th century.
Before the days of cattle ranching, in addition to hunting deer, Seminoles caught otter, raccoon, bobcats, turtles, tortoise, opossum, raccoon, squirrel, and wading birds. Unlike the Indians of the plains and the west, the 18th century Seminole did not use the horse to chase down their game. Hunting was most often done on foot or by canoe with guns. Before the Europeans, the bow and arrow was the weapon of choice, but during the treaty period in the early 1800s, the government actually gifted thousands of rifles to the Seminoles, most of them newly designed Derringer rifles. Those would be used for hunting, and later for warfare.
MORTAR AND PESTLE
Scientists have found ancient mortars and pestles that date back to approximately 35,000 B.C., and their use for grinding medicinal herbs is worldwide. Large mortars and pestles are commonly used in primitive cultures to husk and dehull grain. These are usually made of wood, and operated by one or more people. Husking of corn is the process of removing its outer layers. Dehulling is the process of removing the hulls (or chaff) from beans and other seeds. The African style large wooden mortar and pestle was part of the early Seminole food preparation tools. They used it to process corn, grains, seeds, and coontie roots.