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Cooking fry bread, 4th Annual Spring Benefit Gourd Dance, Norman, Oklahoma, 1999

Fry bread, associated with American Indian cuisine along with its relative, "the Indian taco," emerged in the twentieth century as a favored treat at Oklahoma fairs, powwows, festivals, and restaurants. According to many historians, American Indians, usually those connected with the Southwest, developed fry bread during the mid- to late-nineteenth century as the U.S. government began relocating and confining these peoples. Having to adapt to new sources of subsistence, many tribes learned to cook with traditional U.S. Army rations. Using the provided white wheat flour, Native cooks hand-flattened and deep-fried the dough into a distinctive, golden bread.

Fry bread has many variants. It can contain pumpkin or squash, be topped with fruits and sweets, or be covered with bean, chili, onions, tomatoes, and cheese to create an Indian taco. Most cooks have their own unique recipe to make the simple dish. In 1993 the American Indian Exposition in Anadarko hosted its first national fry bread contest. Fry bread in the form of Indian tacos has long been a favorite at the State Fair of Oklahoma. Dan's Indian Tacos, originally an Oklahoma City restaurant, gained a large following, selling from booths at regional fairs and art festivals. These foodstuffs remain a standard at powwows and at the Red Earth Festival held in Oklahoma City.
Cooked fry bread (in boxes) Although many American Indian entrepreneurs sell fry bread mixes and related cooked items, others are critical of the commercialization of this product. In a 2001 review of the exhibits and other offerings of the National Museum of the American Indian, scholars Patricia Hilden and Shari Huhndorf ironically noted that selling fry bread mix in the gift shop provided "a fitting conclusion: excess commodity flour, lard, sugar, [once] offered to starving reservation people as partial payment for the millions of acres of treaty-stolen land, [and] transformed by Native ingenuity to disguise mold and rancidity, here becomes a portable artifact of Indian authenticity for tourist consumption."


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Carolyn J. Niethammer, American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999). Nicolette I. Teufel, "Nutrient-health Associations in the Historic and Contemporary Diets of Southwest Native Americans," Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine 6 (June 1996). Lawton (Oklahoma) Constitution, 17 August 1993.

Larry O'Dell

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