My Garden is Assimilated

Years back, one of my Dakota students commented “Well, I’m assimilated.”  Living in a state where the largest minority population is American Indian does give some understanding of assimilation – yet as a paleface who taught “Indians of North America”, I have to recognize how much the Native Americans assimilated my European ancestors.  In many ways, my tribal neighbors are culturally much closer than the European relatives left behind when my ancestors shipped off to North America.

Food – across the planet – shows places where the American Indian developments assimilated everyone.  Zucchini – the long, green squash traveled from America to Italy, where it acquired its name (translation is little gourd) and then returned to the Americas to be planted in my garden.  The Italians also incorporated the green bean and the kidney bean in their cuisine, then returned them to my garden.  The red bean – so common in Cajun and Creole dishes – came from the local Indian cuisine in Louisiana.

Corn?  The American Indian staple – we assimilated the Algonquin word “pone” as we assimilated the fried cornbread we term cornpone.  The other term, johnnycake, likely came from “Shawnee” cake.  Hushpuppies came from dropping a spoon of cornmeal mush into hot bear fat – I never did learn which Native language contributed that phrase. 

Virtually all peppers were developed by American Indian agriculturists – only black pepper (Piper nigrum) existed in European diets when Columbus came to the Americas.  Not a botanist, Chris figured the Caribbean islanders were flavoring their food with Piper, not Capsicum.  Personally, I think the early explorers may just have been looking for better food – think about cooking without corn, potatoes, chili peppers, sweet peppers, tomatoes, peanuts, vanilla, chocolate and the many other plants that were domesticated by the Indian gardeners of the Americas. 

Popcorn and peanuts – occasionally mixed with maple syrup – the recipe may have changed a bit, but I can still go into the store and buy a box of Cracker Jacks. 

True, rhubarb is mentioned in Roman documents.  Along with the asparagus (developed in Europe and Asia) rhubarb takes up a perennial niche in my garden.  Like me, it has been assimilated.

Nearly fifty types of American berries have been identified – Europeans had to land to discover over twenty varieties of  blueberries, over  a dozen different gooseberries.  Cashews came from northern Brazil and southern Argentina . . . here we only get the seeds, but they grow in a fruit that is consumed around the equator (or fermented and distilled into feni across the world in India).

My national government is patterned after that of the Iroquois League – as presented by Benjamin Franklin in 1754.  Looking at Washington DC today, I have to admit that we never incorporated the principles as completely as Benjamin Franklin suggested, and we seem to have drifted further from them.  My nation, my garden, my dinner plate – all European immigrants assimilated by the American Indians.

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