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Mini-episode: Traditional cooking

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Cornbread and deer meat cooking on a stone over an open fire.
Pamela D'Angelo
Cornbread and deer meat cooking on a stone over an open fire.

This episode was recorded during the 2023 Monacan Pow Wow. Bertie Branham is an elder and a citizen of the Monacan Indian Nation.

Bertie Branham
Pamela D'Angelo
Bertie Branham

I’m Miss Bertie, I’m from the Monacan Nation and I’m cooking today on the stone like we did 300 years ago. Using slate and fire underneath of it. Real fire from wood. That’s the way we did it before the arrival of the Europeans. In Nelson County, which is about 30 miles from here, that’s where we go to get the stone from. But in the mountains, any flat rock, you can cook on it as long as it don’t burst open.

I worked at Monacan Village at Natural Bridge for eight years and we had a stone that came out of the mountains here and I used it for eight years and it never broke. If you have just a little bit of slant in it where you can keep your grease on it, you can cook on it. It don’t have to be slate. It can be a regular old rock of the mountains.

And today, I’m cooking corn bread. Which was our number one bread, the only bread that we had back then. And I’m cooking deer meat, which was, deer was the number one meat that we had. And I’m also cooking squash. Beans, corn and squash was our three main vegetables that we had before the arrival of the Europeans. So, that’s what I’ll be cooking today.

I’m using a piece of steel that the Europeans brought here, but I also got wood, a wood spoon that I flip it over with too, which we had wood before the Europeans came.

The more herbs you use, the better your meat tastes. Different herbs that come with the forest.

But the cornbread don’t have nothing in it, just corn and water and with grease on top of it. It would have been bear fat that we would have used. Only type of grease we had then was from the black bear that we had here. I’m just using grease today. It’s from a deer. But I also have bear grease at home, I just forgot to bring it. I will have bear grease tomorrow for it.

I’ve been doing my whole life, when I was growing up, lots of times we would cook outside on a stone like that, my grandmother and my great grandmother. But the stone would come out of the mountains, we wouldn’t travel clean to Nelson County to get it, we’d just get the piece out of the mountains and start cooking on it.

Interviewer: Smells Really good.

It does, it really does. And tastes good.

Interviewer: Have you passed this on to your grandchildren?

Oh, yes, they know how to do it, but it’s too hot. So, maybe one of them will continue on, I hope so anyway. But it’s just a hot job here in the summertime to do. Now, the wintertime when I cook they all gather around and help me because it’s cool and they can stay warm from the heat. But in the summertime it’s just too hot for them. Yeah, young people it’s not like us older ones that don’t mind heat.

Thank you for coming by.

This episode was made possible by a grant from Virginia Humanities.