Our people ate mostly wild game and berries that grow in the local area. They grew gardens; they ate ducks, geese, grouse, partridge, muskrats, beaver, gray squirrels, porcupines, raccoon, deer, rabbits, and etcetera.
In the summer ducks were the main meat that was served, because they were eaten fresh. There were ducks in the lakes and sloughs, people would go and shoot ducks cook them up. They were either boiled with salt pork, or you could make soup with them. The soup was usually “rababoo”, which is an oatmeal soup, but sometimes they used rice or macaroni. The ducks were also roasted and sometimes stuffed. They also fried, the duck after it was boiled.
Partridge, goose, grouse, muskrats, beaver, raccoon, porcupine, squirrels were usually roasted. Deer was roasted or fried in bacon grease. Deer meat was also canned in quart jars and saved for hard-times, or for summer time when fresh meat was not available. It the winter there were ice boxes to keep meat. Also in the winter, rabbits could be snared and deer could also be hunted.
Summer was kind of a bad time for fresh meat because it spoiled without electricity and a fridge. Also, you really couldn’t hunt in the summertime except for ducks. In the spring, fish were caught when they were spawning and the fish was smoked. In the summer people also caught fish to eat. The heads of the northern were boiled and used to make rice soup. Also in the spring, “poul do” (mud hen) eggs were gathered and eaten.
Morel mushrooms were gathered in the spring of the year. They were dried for later use if they were plentiful. People made gardens and canned the vegetables, and they picked berries and made sauce with them. The berries were also dried to cook later. Juneberry pie is one of our traditional foods.
Berry sauces were sometimes eaten with cream, and you dipped your bread in the sauce. Some of the sauces, such as Juneberry sauce were used for pies. The berries were boiled and canned in quart jars so when it was time for pie you just opened a jar of berries, put them in a dipper on the stove, and heated them to a boil. You could thicken the berries with either corn starch or flour, then make the pie.
Meat pies were also made. If there was left over meat from a meal, which wasn’t that often, you could always stretch it and use what was leftover for a pie. Store bread was a treat for our people if you had money. Since we didn’t usually, everyone had homemade bread, gullet, biscuits, loaf bread, bangs, “gullet di vaen”—which was gullet made from yeast bread—and buns. Canned meats such as hams, potted meat, corned beef, corned beef hash, and canned chicken were sometimes eaten if you could buy it. Since we didn’t have electricity, we couldn’t store meat, so canned was easier if fresh wasn’t available.
Buying fresh meat from town didn’t happen often except in the summertime. Hamburger we probably got once a month. Ham wasn’t so for the summer if you could afford it, because a person could buy a ham and keep it a couple of days if it was kept cool.
A lot of our foods were boiled. My grandpa use to make boiling beef and potatoes. They would also boil ham and potatoes. Some people also raised chickens and butchered them when they needed to.
Another source of meat was tripe—great for soup. There was a slaughter house about 1½ to 2 miles south of Rolla and our people use to get tripe from there. They also got ox tails and made ox tail soup. If a pig was butchered, they would hang the pig and take all the blood to make blood sausage.
Boullets, bangs, and pie—mostly juneberry pie—and “la puchin” (boiled pudding) were the traditional New Years foods.
When you went to visit somewhere, you were always fed. It didn’t matter where you went to visit, you were given hot coffee or tea, and a lunch. Sometimes lunch was just sauce and cream with bread, bread and jelly, or pie.
People sometimes went out to the prairie to look for “le na voo” which was wild turnips, which are great in soup.
Another thing that was (and still is) a snack with our people is what some called “round-and-round” which is peanut butter and syrup mixed. Most people used Karo syrup. It was bought in gallon pails.
Armour lard was used to fry bangs. Sometimes, if we couldn’t afford to buy it, we used rendered lard made from pork fat that was melted. The fat that wouldn’t melt was used to make gwar-toons (cracklings). Almost everyone made jams and jellies from fruit and berries that were picked locally. You could also make syrup from the berries.
Homemade michif ice cream was made from snow during the winter—a real treat. A person used snow, evaporated milk, sugar, and vanilla to make the ice cream. It was not really ice cream, but was rather a nice mix that kind of had the texture of ice cream. The good thing was that if you put too much liquid in the snow, or if the snow got too runny, you could add more snow to thicken it up.
A remembrance by Sandra Houle, Turtle Mountain Band Elder.
Sandra Rose Houle was born on November 13, 1959 in Belcourt, ND to Sam Ferris and Ida Swain. She was lovingly raised by her mother and Oscar Houle. Sandra was raised in Belcourt and completed her education there as well, before attending college.
Sandra was united in marriage to Edward Houle on October 9, 1978 in Bottineau, ND. Together they had three children, Corbet, Eric, and Lane.
Sandra worked as a teacher throughout the years teaching the Michif language to many children and adults in schools, college, and privately throughout the Turtle Mountain area. She was currently working with others on a book to teach the language.
Sandra enjoyed listening to “old time” music, beading, sewing, and guitar. She loved time spent with her family members, especially her grandchildren, and time with her friends.
Sandra will be lovingly remembered and greatly missed.
Sandra Rose Houle: November 13, 1959 - July 21, 2020