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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 23, 2002 - Issue 55


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Fry Bread Class a Hit

FrybreadKIRTLAND, NM - Novices in the fry bread making class at San Juan College West Thursday left with the feeling their fee was well-spent.

Helen Benally, along with her assistant Cora Goldtooth, both of Shiprock, treated the 10 non-Native American students who made up the class to step-by step preparation from mixing the ingredients to making the dough and frying it.

She gave students an option of making the fry bread out of white flour, whole wheat or blue cornmeal.

The high point of the class was eating the hot, puffy bread with toppings of honey, sugar mixed with cinnamon and powdered sugar mixed with cinnamon, and then as the basis for the popular Navajo taco. She suggested serving it with meat, beans, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, salsa and sour cream.

Traditionally, she said it was served with salt and butter.

The culinary spread rated rave reviews from the students and raised questions about when she would be teaching the class again. She conceded she would do it again, but only if she was asked.

She interlaced her instructions to the class with humor and anecdotes, spiced with bits of traditional culture.

"It's customary for us to feed our visitors, no matter if they just ate 10 minutes ago. It's having respect for the visitors and if you share what you have, it will bring blessings to you," Benally explained.

"When making the bread all our thoughts and love and respect go into it and we wish those it's being made for happiness and long life when they leave," she said.

She also offered some she traditional mixing tips.

"If you want to be very traditional, don't mix with spoons, mix with hands," she said. "Don't be afraid to use your hands. Mix the flour. Sift it with your fingers."

And she offered encouragement.

On letting the dough rest:

"Don't be discouraged if it gets hard. I have my days, too. The more it rests, the better it is," she said. "You want it soft, flexible, so it can stretch and won't tear. Resting makes it nice and smooth."

She recommended letting it sit for 10 to 15 minutes covered with plastic wrap.

"It can even sit for up to 30 minutes covered," she added.

On elasticity of the dough:

"It's very forgiving, if there's a hole as you stretch it, patch it back up," she said.

On blue cornmeal:

"It's very traditional. But play around with it. The more blue cornmeal you use, the warmer the water needs to be toward lukewarm," she said. "Blue cornmeal doesn't take in water and for it to stay together, use butter.

"If you're using blue cornmeal make sure it's very finely ground and says roasted on the package," she said.

On fry bread:

"It's really not an everyday thing. It's for special occasions, like when you're hungry for mutton or with pinto beans. A lot of people think this is our everyday bread," she said.

Vicky Calkins of Farmington took the class because she just moved here from California.

"I wanted to learn how to make it," she said.

Judy Kuhl, also of Farmington, is planning to make it in New York when she and her husband visit her daughter.

"It's a wonderful piece of New Mexico to take to New York. It's neat and unique," she said.

"It tastes good. You can do a lot with it and I wanted to learn to make it because it wasn't a part of my cooking experience," said Anna Kinney, also of Farmington.

Kirtland, NM Map

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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