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Foods

Throughout history, farming, agriculture and, therefore, food have been an integral part of the Chickasaw way of life. In ancient times, Chickasaws lived in villages where they grew corn in communal fields and divided the harvest among the villages. This was the primary crop, and it fed the villages year-round. After European settlement and colonization, Chickasaws established family farmsteads. On these farms, they cultivated cotton and raised livestock such as cattle, hogs and horses. They used horses and oxen to pull wooden plows with iron plowshares. They used the scythe and other hand tools for tending and reaping. The United States established agents and blacksmiths to provide tools and to make repairs. The tools made large cultivation easier to produce superior crops.

Chickasaws depended upon the crops raised in household gardens and common fields to sustain them throughout the year. Seeds were saved from each year’s harvest and vegetables were planted in rotation with the seasons, with any excess preserved for later use. Each Chickasaw family built a corn crib to protect food kept in storage. They set four tall posts deep into the ground and built a timber floor on top of the posts, high above the ground. A small, four-sided building constructed of timber walls covered in clay daub sat on top of the floor. This design kept the food cool and dry. A removable ladder allowed access to the food stored inside. By rubbing oil on the posts, they kept the dried corn and squash, nuts and seeds, and dried meats and fruits safe from rodents and other small animals.

Many traditional Chickasaw foods and recipes have withstood the test of time. Chickasaw families continue to cook and enjoy many of the same foods their ancestors enjoyed long ago. Most notably, this includes the Three Sisters, grape dumplings and pashofa.

Corn

Corn has long been a staple of the Chickasaw diet. Corn grew across the Chickasaw Homeland, in the Southeastern United States, and Chickasaws long ago began to domesticate it as a crop. They planted vast fields around households, tending the crops and harvesting together. Families also received corn from the harvest, and most grew their own in household gardens. While some was eaten fresh, most was dried and saved for use throughout the year. Women used corn pounders made from hollowed out tree trunks to crack and grind dried corn. Corn provided the main ingredient for many foods. Generations were nourished from pashofa and corn cakes. The corn pounder was a household item for Chickasaw women.

Cookbooks

Chickasaw citizens JoAnn Ellis and Vicki Penner co-authored two cookbooks for the Chickasaw Press called Ilimpa'chi': We're Gonna Eat! and Ilittibaaimpa': Let's Eat Together!

Recipes, reminiscences and lessons in Chickasaw life are the main ingredients for Ilimpa’chi’ We’re Gonna Eat!, the first cookbook produced by the Chickasaw Press. The authors selected recipes and illustrated them with glimpses and scenes from growing up around kitchens and outdoor cooking fires. Ilimpa’chi’ also features a glossary of Chickasaw terms and phrases taken from traditions surrounding food and family.

Ilittibaaimpa’: Let’s Eat Together! features recipes handed down through each woman's family for generations. In the process, they also reached out to other Chickasaws for recipes that were particularly near and dear to their hearts. Ilittibaaimpa' contains more than 50 modern recipes, from breads and salads to casseroles and desserts. Additionally, the cookbook demonstrates the love and bond of Chickasaw families through photographs, essays and other special touches.

JoAnn Ellis is a fluent speaker of the Chickasaw language, and a retired specialist in the Chickasaw language department and an instructor for its Master/Apprentice program. She also was an adjunct professor for Chickasaw language studies at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma.

Vicki May Penner, Chickasaw-Cherokee, is retail manager at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma. She holds a master’s degree in education from East Central University and spent 25 years in education before joining the Chickasaw Nation.

Chickasaw Cultural Center

The dishes served at the world-renowned Chickasaw Cultural Center are just part of the unique and vibrant culture of the Chickasaw people. Ongoing, concerted efforts to ensure this part of the culture continues for generations to come is a point of emphasis for the Chickasaw Nation.

Additionally, the Chickasaw Cultural Center's Aaimpa' Café brings a taste of traditional Chickasaw cuisine to guests. Meaning "a place to eat" in the Chickasaw language, the Aaimpa' Café offers such favorites as pashofa, Indian tacos, grape dumplings and Three Sisters salad (romaine lettuce topped with squash, corn and beans).

The picturesque on-site Spiral Garden provides fresh produce for many of the dishes in the Aaimpa’ Café. In Chickasaw tradition, the spiral shape signifies a long life, one that’s a never-ending journey. Surrounding the Spiral Garden is the Three Sisters Garden, a demonstration of an ancient system of growing food through companion planting.

To learn more about the Chickasaw Cultural Center, visit ChickasawCulturalCenter.com.

Last Updated: 08/20/2018