Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

December 16, 2000 - Issue 25


Got Kun-nuh-Chee?

It's not milk, but the holiday season brings about recipes such as this Cherokee traditional delicacy

by Gerald Woffard from the Oklahoma Indian Times


The season of fall brings to life many things of nature. Nature in turn brings back to man life, beauty, and sometimes, good things to eat.

To many traditional Cherokees this time of year, the season not only brings to life the falling of autumn leaves, and the season’s first frost, but a good hot cup of Gah-Nah-gee.

Gah-Nah-gee, pronounced in the proper Cherokee language phonetics, or Kuh-nuh-chee as it can also be called, can be termed an ancient and seasonal drink made in the fall. Created mainly from wild Hickory nuts. This culinary delight can be sipped, spooned, or just plain taken in like water.

It’s very essence can possess the true nature of the fall season in all its glory. The smell that a good pot of Gah-Nah-gee cooking on the stove can awaken one to realization that they have ventured onto something unique. Or to the person who is familiar with it, and it’s presence, the very smell can bring back fond memories of old family life, and perhaps a more simple time.

One person who enjoys making Gah-Nah-gee each year is Albert Wofford of Pryor, Oklahoma. During this time each year Wofford combs the Northeastern Oklahoma woodland areas of Salina, Kenwood, and Locust Grove in search of a good Hickory tree. Usually this time of year, the Hickory tree will yield its fruit, and the very heart of the traditional drink of Gah-Nah-gee, the Hickory Nut. But Wofford says due to the rather dry summer and subsequent early fall, the Hickory nuts have not been as plentiful so far. Mother Nature will also decide when the time is right, usually after the first frost will the Hickory nut yield her fruit, by falling from the tree.

Wofford warns that you make sure the Hickory Nuts are ripe and not ruined by worms, which can put holes in the shell. If the obvious visual test fails, the nut will still have to pass the shell cracking and closer inspection of the meat, or ‘goody’. The meat is located inside the shell, if it contains a very dark brown or black look to it, it is no longer good. If the meat is light to golden brown, it is primed and ready to be used. Even then the meat must be crushed into very fine crumbs. This part of the creative process requires the most patience, for it is at this point the fine crumbs of the meat must be separated from the fine crumbs of the outer shell, which are both crushed together. The shell crumbs, of course, are not needed. Usually cracking the Hickory Nuts one at a time will allow one to separate the meat from the shell effectively. Although some crumbs cannot be totally rid of at this point, they will be during a later process in the over all creation of Gah-Nah-gee.

The meat will now be formed into a ball, usually the size of a baseball .

The fine strainer will eventually catch all the hard shells, letting only the meat of the Hickory nut pass through. This will insure all who partake in this seasonal traditional mixture a true taste of Cherokee Heaven.

The finely crushed meat is now shaped into a ball. The size of the ball will depend on how much one chooses to make. Usually a size not much bigger than a baseball will yield about one and half gallons. It usually takes about 150 Hickory nuts to make this certain size. The ball is now ready to be boiled, or can be placed in aluminum foil and frozen for later use. If it is boiled at this time it will be placed into a pot of luke-warm water on top of a cooking stove with a low cooking flame underneath. The water amount should just exceed the top of the ball inside the pot. As the ball is boiling it will de-form and settle into the boiling water. After it has fully de-formed, a fine strainer and extra pot is needed now. The fine strainer will allow one to catch all unnecessary pieces such as shell crumbs as the meat pieces pass through the strainer into the extra pot. The fine strainer should only allow the goodies to pass through the net. Repeat this process 4 to 5 times. If certain parts of the meat are netted by the strainer, spoon them out and place into the extra pot. After this process with the strainer, fill the extra pot with the meat inside with about 4 cups of water, more if the ball is bigger. This patient process will insure all that partake in this seasonal traditional mixture a true taste of Cherokee Heaven.

It is at this point in the creative process that Gah-Nah-gee can be made according to each individual. Many prefer to cook hominy with it. Others, like Wofford, choose rice to create this unique mixture. The rice is able to give the drink more thickness, and actually enhances it, according to Wofford . The rice, or the hominy, depending on what one chooses, should be prepared separately before being added to the boiling pot of fine Hickory Nuts, and then added a little at a time.

After the Hickory pieces have come to a boil, and the rice or hominy has been entirely added. It is advisable to keep a close watch on it, and add water when it looks to be thinning, or becoming too dry. Although it is said some choose to add less or more water preferring a thicker or thinner batch. The cooking process should be done in about a twenty-five minutes under a covered pot with a low fire.

Not only is it up to each individual on how he may wish to prepare it, but also how he will indulge in it. Many prefer to drink, or eat it straight, with nothing else added. Some may even add salt or pepper to it, and have as a side dish to a main course. Others prefer to add sugar, or some type of sweetner to it, further enhancing this pleasurable drink to a type of desert.

Wofford has already been gathering Hickory Nuts this season, and usually makes many Gah-Nah-gee balls that he stores away and sells to anyone interested. If you are interested and get in touch with Wofford. He may even share with you the choice places to gather the Hickory Nuts.

The Cherokee word for ‘good’ is pronounced in english as ‘Ost’, (OOstt), and if you still don’t know how to say it, chances are you will after you taste the traditional drink of Gah-Nah-gee.

Gah-Nah-gee/Kuh-Nuh-Chee Recipe

  1. Put Hickory ball into luke warm water/
  2. Boil at low stove fire/
  3. Allow ball to de-form and boil in water into a liquid mixture/
  4. Fine strain mixture and let deposit to another pot to rid shell bits, repeat 3 to 4 times, or more if neccesary/
  5. Spoon out hickory pieces from fine strainer, if it contains any, and place into pot/
  6. Add water and let boil into pot, again at low fire/
  7. Add prepared 1 cup of rice, or hominy, a little at a time, while boiling/
  8. Let boil at least 30 minute, adding water if needed or desired/ (more water-thinner drink/less water-thicker drink/ note:don’t over boil or it will burn!
  9. Enjoy! Drink or spoon straight or add condiments is desired.

(note: if the Gah-Nah-gee ball is bigger in size than a baseball, add more ingredients accordingly)

If you are interested in purchasing Gah-Nah-gee, call Wofford at #(918) 825-5624

Wah-Doh! Thank you.



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