Cherokee Bean Bread
Bakers delicately wrap this corn-and-bean dumpling in hickory leaves before boiling.
More like a dumpling, Cherokee bean bread rests on two ingredients fundamental to Native American civilization: corn and beans.
Despite its simple contents, making this traditional bread is not easy. Bakers first soak corn kernels in a mixture of lye-rich hickory ash and water, then remove their tough outer shells. After sifting and grinding the resulting cornmeal, they add cooked beans and water to form a large, moist dumpling. Then comes the most challenging part: One must delicately wrap the corn-and-bean dumpling in soaked hickory leaves or corn husks, and tie the packet with a piece of young river grass. The seal has to be tight, as the parcel gets dropped in a kettle and boiled for about an hour.
The resulting soft, moist bread—often made with rare, heirloom varieties of corn and beans—is an enduring piece of Cherokee history.
Where to Try It
Cherokee FairCherokee Indian Fair Grounds, 545 Tsali Blvd., Cherokee, North Carolina, 28719, United States
The annual Cherokee Fair in October features demonstrations, dancing, music, and more. Don’t worry, there will be bean bread there, too.