Arts & Entertainment » The Arts

The Return of Local Flavor

How to make some real Montana classics


The Long-Lost Recipe for Cooking Camas

Missoula’s original popularity had less to do with the mountains and more to do with the proliferation of camas and bitterroot plants within the five valleys. These edible roots were staple foods of the Nez Perce, Salish-Kootenai, and Blackfeet Indians who came down to the valley floors each spring and summer to harvest them. But when whites, concerned for Indian welfare, analyzed the camas root, they found it contained no nutritive value and labeled it a condiment, something that amounted to little more than an onion. Instead, their recommendation was for the Indians to eat more potatoes, bread and starchy foods. But what the researches did not do was cook the camas roots in the traditional manner. And the fact is, when prepared properly, camas can be quite nutritious, as well as palatable.

Back in March 1933, University of Montana Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Harry Turney-High published an article in Scientific Monthly (Vol. XXXVI, pgs. 262-263), which begins by lamenting that “with every recurring bitter root season, we notice fewer and fewer tipis pitched on the flats south of the university. … The rapid diffusion of the Woolworth pot-and-pan complex has made the following cooking method impossible to ever see again.” We present it to you now, as a long-gone tradition of Montana cuisine:

“Dig a pit 10 feet long and two to three feet wide. Kindle a fire of intense heat therein (cottonwood is better than conifers). When the wood is reduced to glowing coals, red willow sticks with the sap still in them are crisscrossed over the fire bed in the form of a gridiron. Over this is laid a blanket of green bunch grass some two to three inches thick. Dump the camas roots into the pit. Cover the mass with a layer of bunch grass and a thick layer of earth. Kindle another fire on top of the heap and keep alive for 12 to 18 hours. Rake away and open oven. Camas roots are then found cooked to the consistency of boiled beets. The same process works well for the bitter root.”

Incidentally, because it’s our state flower, the bitterroot is protected and cannot be picked under any circumstances, so you can rid yourself of any notions you might have of cooking up a batch. —from Scientific Monthly, 1933.

Stir-Fried Wheat Berries

2 C. sprouted wheat berries
1 large carrot, shredded
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 celery stalk, chopped
1/2 C. shredded cabbage

Preheat wok or fry pan. Place a small amount of oil or stock in it. Add sprouted wheat and stir fry 3-4 min. (To decrease stir fry time, steam berries first 5 min.) Add other vegetables and stir-fry another few minutes, until veggies are soft. Add spices to taste. —from Wheat Montana and Gerda Gustafsson

Whole Wheat, Banana, Walnut Pancakes

1 C. Prairie Gold ww flour
1 C. Natural White flour
3 Tbs. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 ripe bananas
1 C. plain, low-fat yogurt or low-fat buttermilk
1/4 C. water
2 large eggs
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/2 . finely chopped walnuts

Slice bananas and place in blender with yogurt/buttermilk, water, eggs, and vegetable oil. Process until smooth. Mix dry ingredients in a medium size bowl until blended. Stir in liquids just until blended, stir in walnuts. Heat griddle or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water flicked on the surface evaporates almost immediately. Reduce heat to medium and spray with cooking spray. Drop batter on griddle by 1/4 cupfuls, spreading to a 4” circle with back of spoon. Cook, turning once, 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned. Serve immediately. Cooked pancakes can be refrigerated or frozen for future use: Cool on wire rack, place between waxed paper and seal in airtight container or bag. Reheat in toaster.

Yield: 12 pancakes —from Wheat Montana and Pat Shevalier

Pan-Fried Trout

2 8-ounce trout, heads and tails intact, gutted and cleaned
1/2 tsp. Salt
2 eggs
2/3 C. bread crumbs
1/2 C. flour
3 Tbs. Butter
1 lemon

Rub fish on the inside and outside with salt. Beat eggs in shallow bowl. In large pan, over medium-high heat, melt butter. Pat down fish with flour and dip in egg mixture until thoroughly coated. Roll in bread crumbs. When butter is bubbling, place fish in pan, cover and cook for 4 minutes per side, or until skin is crispy and meat is an opaque white throughout. Top with lemon juice and serve. —from “Montana Recipes,”

Huckleberry Fool

4 C. stale bread, diced
3 Tbs. Butter
4 C. huckleberries, crushed
1/2 C. sugar
1/2 C. milk
whipped cream

Fry diced stale bread in butter until crisp. Place in bowl and add crushed berries that have been sweetened with sugar. Mix in milk. Chill, serve with whipped cream. —from “Montana Recipes,”

Add a comment