Planting Seeds on the Banks of the Missouri

Buffalo Bird Woman's Gardencatlin

Buffalo Bird Woman was born in an earth lodge in 1839, along the Knife River, in present day North Dakota. She grew up to be an expert gardener of the Hidatsa tribe, growing corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers along the fertile bottomlands of the Missouri River. In 1917, anthropologist Gilbert L. Wilson published Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians, a faithful transcript of his interviews with this remarkable woman.
In this book (since retitled Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden: Agriculture and the Hidatsa Indians), Maxidiwiac (as she was known in Hidatsa) talks of field preparation, planting, harvesting and storage — along with the songs and ceremonies that lead to a good crop. You get a sense of what a social occasion gardening was. When the first green corn was plucked, the women and children would gather, breaking off a piece of stalk, sucking the sweet juice — “merely for a little taste of sweets in the field.

Reading this book brings back a lost world, especially life beyond the garden rows:

Little girls of 10 and 11 years of age used to make dolls of squashes. When the squashes were brought in from the field, the little girls would go to the pile and pick out squashes that were proper for dolls. I have done so myself. We used to pick out the long ones…squashes whose tops were white or yellow and the bottoms of some other color. We put no decorations on these squashes….Each little girl carried her squash about in her arms and sang for it as for a babe. Often she carried it on her back, in her calf skin robe.” from Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden

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Brand new to our Waterton Canyon Kids Nature Library is S.D. Nelson’s Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story — a faithful telling of Buffalo Bird Woman’s childhood. Full of historic photos, maps, and Nelson’s own artwork, this book beautifully captures Hidatsa life on the edge of change.

tool Buffalo Bird Woman

Digging sticks are still used in my tribe for digging wild turnips; but even in my grandmother’s lifetime, digging sticks and bone hoes, as garden tools, had all but given place to iron hoes and axes.” — from Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden

And here’s a few more excellent volumes on Native American foodways. There are many, many more on the Land Library’s shelves!

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Native American Gardening: Stories, Projects and Recipes for Families by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac, Pueblo Indian Agriculture by James A. Vlasich.
Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources by M. Kat Anderson, Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation by Gary Paul Nabhan.

Health’s Hidden Storehouse

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“We must reconnect with nature, with the world that ultimately defines our existence and produces our food and medicines. Indeed, the tiny pills that we hold in our hands and that heal our ailments originated, in most instances, not from humankind, but from the natural world. They are fundamentally out of nature.” — Kara Rogers

In many ways, we are still in our infancy when it comes to understanding the true benefits that nature provides. We all depend on the “ecosystem services” of food, nutrient cycling, clean air, and water. Vital to human health, plants also provide a storehouse of medicinal cures and healing compounds. Most scientists estimate that we are nowhere close to tapping all the curative powers of nature — just at this perilous time of habitat loss and declining biodiversity.

Kara Rogers’ Out of Nature: Why Drugs from Plants Matter to the Future of Humanity, explores how plants have been used for millenia in traditional systems of healing, and how they form the basis for modern medicine as well. This book also draws a direct line between the extinction of species and the extinction of future cures:

“In the modern era, habitats and the species they contain are at the greatest risk of extinction that they have ever known. The consequences on all fronts, from the aesthetic qualities of nature to the functioning of ecosystems to human health, are severe. In terms of medicine and our ability to fight disease, protecting Earth’s plants and the compounds they produce has become a necessity.”

Also pictured above, a very good companion to have on hand while you read Out of Nature: National Geographic Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine by Rebecca Johnson and Steven Foster.

And here’s three more essential volumes on medicinal plants:

Native American Medicinal Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary by Daniel E. Moerman, and Peterson Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Steven Foster and Christopher Hobbs.

and the wonderfully illustrated Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill and Evelyn Dean.

An estimated 2,000 new species of plants are discovered each year. Modern plant hunters continue to span the globe, as did their renowned predecessors such as Joseph Hooker, George Forrest, and Joseph Banks. For more on the plant hunters of the past, and the global explorers of today, here’s one of our favorite past posts:

–Plant Hunters Enriching our World

A Long and Sympathetic Search: Maynard Dixon and the West

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From 1900 to his death in 1946, Maynard Dixon roamed the American West’s plains, mesas, and deserts — by foot, horseback, buckboard, and ultimately, the dreaded automobile — drawing, painting, and expressing his creative personality in poems, essays, and letters in a quest to uncover the region’s spirit.” — Donald J. Hagerty, The Life of Maynard Dixon

Early on, Maynard Dixon and the American West became inexorably linked. In 1901 he joined fellow artist Edward Borein on a rugged horseback trip through several Western states. What he saw changed his life, and can still be traced in the many paintings, sketches and illustrations that would follow.

Donald Hagerty has captured the remarkable life and work of Maynard Dixon in two recent books. The Art of Maynard Dixon is a large-format monograph, and the next best thing to viewing Dixon’s work in galleries across the country. As much as we love this hefty book, our favorite is Hagerty’s The Life of Maynard Dixon — an illuminating biography that is also one of the most brilliantly designed books we’ve seen in many years. Color images of Dixon’s paintings and illustrations accompany nearly every page of this incredibly rich biography.

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The Life of Maynard Dixon is also full of black & white photos from Dixon’s life — here’s Dixon with his wife Edith Hamlin, a noted San Francisco muralist.

Hagerty also documents the more commercial work Dixon undertook. Dixon’s illustrations were featured in several magazines such as Sunset, Scribners, Colliers, Century Magazine, and McClures. To make ends meet he also crafted billboard images such as The Apache Trail via the Southern Pacific, 1917 (pictured above).

It’s a great joy to see the full range of Dixon’s work preserved in Donald Hagerty’s books!

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This is the land of mesas, laid down in layers of colored sandstone, red, yellow, pink, and creamy white; carved and hollowed by the recession of forgotten seas; their sides often sheer, or broken into strange isolated slabs, turrets, buttes — the blind blunt architecture of a pre-human world.Maynard Dixon

Here’s a short film clip, where you’ll have the chance to meet Donald Hagerty and learn more about the life and work of Maynard Dixon:

My object has always been to get close to the real nature of my subject as possible — people, animals and country. The melodramatic Wild West idea is not for me the big possibility. The nobler and more lasting qualities are in the quiet and most broadly human aspects of western life. I aim to interpret, for the most part, the poetry and pathos of the life of western people, seen amid the grandeur, sternness and loneliness of their country.Maynard Dixon

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White Buttes, Utah, 1944

Through long and sympathetic searching, he learned how the almost imperceptible contours of flat plains rise and fall as they flow toward the horizon and how the architecture of mesas and buttes marches rhythmically over the landscape, swelled with the freedom of a deep blue sky.Donald J. Hagerty, The Life of Maynard Dixon

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Open Range, 1942

I do not paint Indians or cowboys merely because they are picturesque subjects, but because through them I can express that phantasy of freedom of space and thought, which will give the world a sentiment about these people which is inspiring and uplifting.Maynard Dixon

When the Earth Was Young

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Rock painting was our species’ first artistic adventures, our first celebration of the natural world, maybe our first crucial step into reflective self-consciousness. Tony Hopkins’ extraordinary artistic project, to witness this art from the chalk-hills of England to the shaman caves of South Africa, and then paint the paintings himself, gives a uniquely sympathetic insight into this first flowering of the human imagination.” — Richard Mabey.

For over twenty years, British artist Tony Hopkins has traveled in pursuit of the globe’s most remarkable rock art sites. The result is one of the most intriguing books we’ve seen this year — Pecked and Painted: Rock Art, from Long Meg to Giant Wallaroo, a wonderfully rich volume full of the author’s photographs, field sketches, finished paintings, and extensive journal entries. Hopkins truly went far and wide in his rock art quest: Britain, Ireland, France, Italy, Scandinavia, Australia, South Africa, Namibia, Sudan, Egypt, and the American Southwest. No two sites were the same, but as Tony Hopkins describes, something universal shone through:

Whatever its meaning when the earth was young, rock art speaks to us now of a time when people lived their lives close to nature, in tune with the rhythm of the earth. It is no coincidence that most rock art is associated with what we think of today as wilderness areas, the far reaches of temporal and spiritual existence, wild landscapes where the past is still visible in the present, where what is most special has to do with the way we respond to nature.

Hopkins’ words perfectly describe why the Land Library has built a 20 year collection of books devoted to prehistoric art. Starting with North America, and volumes such as these:

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The Serpent and the Sacred Fire: Fertility Images in Southwest Rock Art by Dennis Slifer, Plains Indian Rock Art by James D. Keyser & Michael A. Klassen , Legacy on Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region by Sally J. Cole.

But before long, those universal themes mentioned above, led us to seek out volumes such as these:

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Rock Art of the Dreamtime by Josephine Flood, The Hunter’s Vision: The Prehistoric Art of Zimbabwe by Peter Garlake, The Archaeology of Rock-Art edited by Christopher Chippindale and Paul Tacon.

along with Jean Clottes’ classic and comprehensive World Rock Art:

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Stay tuned for our next post: German film director Werner Herzog and the birth of art in the Cave of Forgotten Dreams!

Betrayal, Rejuvenation, and the History of a People

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In 2004, Oregon’s Siletz Tribe asked Charles Wilkinson to write its tribal history. Wilkinson (distinguished legal scholar and lifelong student of the American West) took on the task, and six years later we have The People Are Dancing Again: The History of the Siletz Tribe of Western Oregon.

Frank Pommershein (author of Broken Landscape: Indians, Indian Tribes, and the Constitution) writes: “Charles Wilkinson captures the Siletz people’s long journey of betrayal and rejuvenation with such warmth, insight, and engagement that a reader feels privileged to share in it.”

For more on the Siletz people, and Charles Wilkinson’s latest book, please take a look at this excellent clip!

Charles Wilkinson’s books on the complex history of the American West are among the most indispensable volumes on the Land Library’s shelves. Here’s just a few:

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Blood Struggle: The Rise of the Modern Indian Nation, Fire on the Plateau: Conflict and Endurance in the American Southwest

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Messages from Frank’s Landing: A Story of Salmon, Treaties, and the Indian Way, Crossing the Next Meridian: Land, Water, and the Future of the West, The Eagle Bird: Mapping a New West, and The Fourth West (the 2009 Wallace Stegner Lecture)

The Rocky Mountain Land Series will be hosting both Charles Wilkinson and author & attorney Walter Echo-Hawk on Saturday, December 4th. For more details on this FREE event, click here. And for more information on Walter Echo-Hawk’s book, In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided, you can scan our earlier post!

We hope you can make this special Land Series event. In the meantime, we’d like to share one of our favorite passages from The People Are Dancing Again. Here’s Charles Wilkinson on the home of the Siletz people:

“Their traditional homeland was literally the most productive, in terms of mammals, fish, and other seafood, of anywhere in western North America; western Oregon Indians understandably revered these ‘landscapes that fed their people.’ Their environment was so mild in climate — often rain- and windswept to be sure, but ultimately so easy on a person. The land was physically magnificent, with its green ridges and mists and changing coastlines and endless sea. Everyone was buried there, from way back, and all the stories were told there. This was where it began. The reverence for their homeland, for duh-neh, their place, is so complete, so profound, that their religion has no heaven separate from earth. When people pass on, they remain here, in their paradise.”

Celebrating the Landscape of Home

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As the Rocky Mountain Land Series heads into its ninth year, we’re excited to announce our Fall 2010 lineup of authors, artists, photographers, historians, and naturalists. Each Land Series presenter widens our appreciation of the stories behind our age-old relationship to the land, and for that we are extremely grateful! (You can find the entire Fall schedule listed below).

The new season starts on September 30th, as Craig Childs discusses his new book Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession (pictured above). The Land Series has been lucky enough to host Craig Childs before, and this new book may be his best yet!

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It’s hard to think of a more wide-ranging, knowledgeable student of the American West than Dan Flores. Dan will discuss his two most recent books, the Twentieth Anniversary edition of his classic of the southern plains, Caprock Canyonlands, and Visions of the Big Sky: Painting and Photographing the Northern Rocky Mountain West.

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This fall’s schedule is a good example of the wide diversity of Land Series topics. Here’s three upcoming authors who, in their own way, tell the twin stories of people and the land: Walter Echo-Hawk’s In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided (for more on Walter Echo-Hawk, please visit our earlier post), Walter Borneman’s Rival Rails: The Race to Build America’s Greatest Transcontinental Railroad, and Jack Turner’s Landscapes on Glass: Lantern Slides for the Rainbow Bridge–Monument Valley Expedition (there’s more on this little known expedition on our earlier post).

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Why should birder’s have all the fun? Robert Michael Pyle embarked on his own Big Year, as many obsessed birders have done. Sighting butterflies was Pyle’s goal, but along the way he has (like Edwin Way Teale before him) written an insightful natural history spanning several regions.

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A certain level of learned zaniness may ensue when artist Ray Troll returns to the Land Series with his new book Something Fishy This Way Comes (for proof of zany, check out this video from our earlier post, The Perfect Blend of Pancakes & Paleontology).

Jonathan Waterman returns as well — this time with National Geograpahic photographer Peter McBride, as they discuss The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict. Water will forever remain high on our list of Land Series topics!

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And speaking of the power of the Colorado River, photographer Christoper Brown will be giving a powerpoint presentation on his new book Path of Beauty: Photographic Adventures in the Grand Canyon, full of wonderful images that elevate geologic layers to high art.

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Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril is a book not to be missed. A panel of editors & contributors will join us in a loose town-hall format as we all come to grips with our obligations to the planet and to the future.

And there’s no more immediate ethical sphere than our relationship to food. Katherine Leiner has written a wonderful new book that highlights inspirational stories from across the country, Growing Food: The New Generation of Sustainable Farmers, Cooks, and Food Activists.

So PLEASE join us this Fall for the chance to meet the following authors!


Thursday, September 30th, 7:30pm:

Craig Childs, author of
Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession

Friday, October 15th, 7:30pm:

Ray Troll, author of
Something Fishy This Way Comes: The Artwork of Ray Troll

Sunday, October 17th, 3:00pm:

Dan Flores, author of
Caprock Canyonlands and Visions of the Big Sky: Painting and Photographing the Northern Rocky Mountain West

Thursday, October 21st, 7:30pm:

Walter Borneman, author of
Rival Rails: The Race to Build America’s Greatest Transcontinental Railroad

Saturday, October 23rd, 2:00pm:

Katherine Leiner, author of
Growing Roots: The New Generation of Sustainable Farmers, Cooks, and Food Activists

Saturday, October 30th, 2:00pm:

Robert Michael Pyle, author of
Mariposa Road: The First Butterfly Big Year

Saturday, November 13th, 2:00pm:

The editors & contributors from
Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril

Saturday, November 20th, 2:00pm:

Jack Turner, author of
Landscapes on Glass: Lantern Slides for the Rainbow Bridge–Monument Valley Expedition

Monday, November 29th, 7:30pm:

Christopher Brown, author of
Path of Beauty: Photographic Adventures in the Grand Canyon

Saturday, December 4th, 2:00pm:

Walter Echo-Hawk, author of
In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided

Date & Time TBA:

Peter McBride & Jonathan Waterman, authors of
The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict

All Land Series events will take place at the Tattered Cover’s Historic LoDo Book Store (16th & Wynkoop in lower downtown Denver). For more information visit the Tattered Cover’s event page. Each program is FREE of charge — truly a wonderful opportunity for lifelong learners of all ages!

Ansel Hall & The Last Great Expedition in the American West

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In the 1930’s, Ansel Hall, the Chief Naturalist for the National Park Service, led a massive scientific expedition along the Arizona/Utah borderlands. For six years a wide array of naturalists and scientists studied the landscape and inhabitants of one of the continent’s least known regions.

To finance the project, Hall traveled the country, showing lantern slides of the expedition’s finds, while soliciting support from philanthropists and foundations. The original black & white photographs (many taken by Hall) had been meticulously hand-tinted by the National Park Service’s Lantern Slide Department — a beehive of activity at the time, devoted to extremely detailed work requiring magnifying glasses and delicate brushes. Gone are those days!

Thankfully a new book preserves Ansel Hall’s story, along with many of the stunning color images. Landscapes on Glass: Lantern Slides for the Rainbow Bridge-Monument Valley Expedition is written and edited by Jack Turner, grandson of the leader of what many call, the last great expedition in the American West. For more information, and many more images, please visit the book’s website!

Join us on Saturday November 20th as the Rocky Mountain Land Series presents a slide talk by Jack Turner, full of wonderful lantern-slide images!
Time: 2pm, at the Tattered Cover’s LoDo Store.

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Lantern slide of the Grand Canyon’s Kaibab Trail, looking west from Mormon Flats.

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Many of the hand-tinted photographs from Landscapes on Glass focus on the native peoples of the Four Corners, including this Navajo girl at her loom.

A History Both Epic and Tragic


Historian Eric Jay Dolin has just written one of the most comprehensive histories of the rise and fall of the American fur trade. To read Fur, Fortune, and Empire is to understand how North America was explored and settled, as its native peoples were both enriched and exploited by the trade. Buffalo, beaver, and sea otters were slaughtered, and their precious pelts were tailored into hats, coats, and sleigh blankets.

Dolin is a natural-born storyteller, and he makes a convincing case for the seminal role the fur trade had in the shaping of our continent.

Eric Jay Dolin’s previous book, Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America, was chosen by the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe as one of the best books of the year.

Historian Douglas Brinkley had an excellent comment about Dolin’s latest book: “Nobody writes about the link between American history and natural history with the scholarly grace of Eric Jay Dolin. Fur, Fortune, and Empire is a landmark study filled with a cast of eccentric western-type characters. Not since the days of Francis Parkman has a historian analyzed the fur-trade industry with such brilliance.”

Please join us as Eric Jay Dolin takes part in the Land Library’s ongoing Rocky Mountain Land Series on Monday, July 26th. For more information, you can visit the Tattered Cover Book Store’s website!

The literature of mountain men and the fur trade is voluminous. Here’s just a few classic titles from the Land Library’s shelves:

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Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West by Dale L. Morgan, Rocky Mountain Rendezvous: A History of the Fur Trade 1825-1840 by Fred R. Gowans, Osborne Russell’s Journal of a Trapper (a book that has been highly praised over the years by contemporary nature writer Edward Hoagland), Mountain Men and Fur Traders: Eighteen Biographical Sketches by LeRoy R. Hafen

And no study of the fur trade can be complete without a full knowledge and appreciation of the animals most impacted by this industry. The Land Library heartily recommends the following natural history studies:

The Time of the Buffalo by Tom McHugh, Otters: Ecology, Behavior, and Conservation by Hans Kruuk (including the nature & ecology of sea otters), The Beaver: Natural History of a Wetlands Engineer by Dietland Muller-Schwarze & Lixing Sun

For much more on the history of the fur trade in the West, be sure to visit the Museum of the Fur Trade‘s website, or if you’re ever in Chadron, Nebraska, plan a visit!

Salmon in the Trees & the rich cycle of life

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One of the rarest ecosystems on earth, the Tongass rain forest fringes the coastal panhandle of Alaska. Humpback whales, orcas, and sea lions cruise the forested shorelines. Wild salmon swim upstream, feeding some of the world’s highest densities of grizzlies, black bears, and bald eagles.

Photographer Amy Gulick’s Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska’s Tongass Rain Forest explores the entire ecosystem that makes up Tongass National Forest — its habitat, wildlife, and people.

Along with Amy Gulick’s award-winning photographs, this extremely thoughtful book features essays from an impressive cast of writers and conservationists: Douglas Chadwick, Brad Matsen, Richard Nelson, Carl Safina, John Straley, among others. The easy collaborative feel of this book sets it apart, and serves the Tongass region well.

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That the Tongass is among the planet’s loveliest settings as well as one of its outstanding biological hot spots is no accident. The dramatic ice-cut topography and beckoning marine passageways both drive dynamic processes that yield life in profusion. Beyond that, the landscapes and seascapes interact in ways that multiply each other’s vitality. The result? A superecosystem.” — Douglas Chadwick

And joining Amy Gulick, to make this book so visually stunning, is the artwork of an old favorite of the Land Library — Ray Troll:

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Deep Forest by Ray Troll (from Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska’s Tongass Rain Forest)

For more on Ray Troll, you can revisit an earlier Land Library post:

The Perfect Blend of Pancakes and Paleontology

From the Bronx Seedless Grape to the Paiute Tepary Bean: The Food Nations of North America

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A.J. Liebling knew it, so did M.F.K. Fisher, not to mention, most of the aunts, uncles, and parents of our lives. Food matters, it sustains us, and if we are lucky enough, food also opens doors to rich cultural traditions we should never let die.

That’s why we especially love Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods, edited by Gary Paul Nabhan. This book celebrates local economies, native wisdom, and an amazing diversity of food traditions across the nation. Snake River Salmon, Chickasaw Plum, Zimmerman’s Pawpaw, Meech’s Prolific Quince, Ojibwa Wild Rice, are among over a hundred foods highlighted with hidden histories, folklore, and recipes.

Food historian Betty Fussell had a very good comment about this book: “If you’re going to buy a single book about American food, buy this one. Knowledge is everything. I’m grateful to the authors and publishers of this vital book for making knowing, saving, and savoring one and the same action.

This is a fun, and enormously valuable book that will get you thinking about the foods of your own home region!

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Renewing America’s Food Traditions is organized by region, what the editor refers to as Food Nations: Acorn, Bison, Chestnut, Chile Pepper, Clambake, Cornbread, Crabcake, Gumbo, Maple Syrup, Moose, Pinyon Nut, Salmon, and Wild Rice.

From the eastern edge of Pinyon Nut Nation, we can also recommend, for further reading, an earlier post on a related book:

The Spirited Release of the Pinon Pine