Gateway to the Classics: Stephen of Philadelphia by James Otis
Stephen of Philadelphia by  James Otis

Cooking Indian Corn

It would surprise you to know in how many ways the savages cook Indian corn. Mother says that while she is not favorable to these brown women as cooks, believing they are not cleanly, we can learn very much from them in the way of preparing dishes from corn.

First, and that of which I have already told you something, comes the roasting of the kernels in the ashes, and then the pounding into meal by the use of the stone mortar and pestle. Whether it is the ashes which give the peculiar flavor, I cannot say, but this nookick, as the savages call it, is most pleasing to the taste, and father says that a very small quantity of it eaten at regular times, is sufficient for a laboring man, although for my part I would choose wild turkey, roasted until the skin is so brown and crisp that it breaks when you set your teeth into it.

However, Jethro and I have eaten nookick many and many a time; but not that of the Indians' making. Mother roasted and bruised it, and therefore we knew it was clean; otherwise it would not have been so pleasing to the stomach.


The savages make bread in an odd fashion, and although I have never eaten any of it myself, there are many in this city of Philadelphia who have, declaring it to be fairly good. I have seen the Indian girls cook it more than once; but have never yet been able to coax mother into trying her hand at it, because she insists that it would be a sinful waste of good meal.

The Indians fill one of their clay pots halfway to the brim with water, and then drop in stones which have been heated as hot as fire will make them, until the water boils. In the meanwhile they have mixed little balls of corn meal and water, making each about the size of a baby's fist. These are dropped into the kettle and allowed to remain until well soaked, after which they are taken out and spread on a smooth stone in front of the fire to brown.

Jethro, who is not overly nice as to what he puts into his mouth, has eaten more than one of these odd cakes, and says they are good enough to satisfy him; but mother insists that there is such a thing as being too easily pleased.

Another Indian dish is what father calls "stirabout," and we have it right often, for it is both satisfying and healthful. It is made by stirring into boiling water the meal from Indian corn, until the mixture is so thick that a spoon will stand upright in it.

With plenty of sugar, or milk, or even with salt, one can make a hearty meal of it, and feel the better when it is done. Some of our people eat it cold; but mother thinks it should be brought to the table steaming hot, which is the Indian method of serving.

Mother cooks regular bread of the meal from the corn, baking a thin loaf in a pan, or on a smooth board, in front of the fire, and if one has a goodly supply of hot fat from meat to eat with it, he can make a glutton of himself without trying very hard.

Jethro's mother would say that one who talks overly much about eating has sinned in his heart, therefore I will come to that time when William Penn entered this city of his, and the story must of necessity be a long one, for we made merry and saw much that was interesting.

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