Potawatomi Food

The Potawatomi were collectors and gatherers of animals and plants for food. They would move from place to place with the seasons in order to allow these plants and animals to grow back.

The Potawatomi learned how to farm from neighboring tribes. The women's job in the tribe was to plant, nurture, and harvest the crops. They raised beans, peas, squash, tobacco, melons and corn. Most extra crops were dried and stored for the winter. The rest were used to trade with other tribes.

As the Potawatomi became better farmers, they began to settle down. They lived in villages close to their crops and only left the villages during long winter hunts.  The Potawatomi would move their villages every ten to twelve years, when the soil became drained and crops  no longer grew very well.

The Potawatomi liked the taste of a seed-bearing grass called wild rice.  This grass grew naturally in the streams and marshes were they lived.  They harvested the grain from their canoes.  Wild rice was an important part of their diet.  They also used it to trade with other tribes who did not have access to the rice.

picture of squash and rice

Tobacco, though not a food item, was an important plant to the Potawatomi.  They believed it was a gift from the spirits.  The Potawatomi made frequent offerings to the spirits for this plant. Before they began a wild rice harvest, for example, they would toss a few pinches of dried tobacco leaves on the water to make sure they got a lot of rice.

Tobacco was also used to set up relationships between people.  A pinch of tobacco was placed in the stone bowl of a long, feather-decorated pipe called a calumet.  Peace treaties between tribes were sealed by the passing and smoking of this sacred pipe.

Throughout the year, both men and women fished in the lakes.  Every autumn, men, women, and children all went into the woods for the winter hunt.  They did not return until spring.  Buffalo hunting provided them with a good supply of meat and skins for the winter months.

The Potawatomi used their knowledge of animals to help them find nuts and berries.  The deer mouse, for example, gathers nuts for the winter.  The Potawatomi watched the mouse do this, then waited for the first snow and searched out the storage places of these small animals.

Along with what they hunted and gathered, the Potawatomi ate "fene," which was made from the nut of the beech tree.  The nuts were roasted and pounded into flour for breads and other foods.

nuts, mortar and pestle

They ate a soup that was made with wild rice and blueberries. Another soup was made from cattail roots.  This plant was also eaten raw or dried and pounded into flour for bread.  They made puddings from pumpkins and squash, or from popped corn and chestnuts.  They added maple syrup to many foods for flavor.

When food was plentiful, the Potawatomi would plan special feasts. The feasts were given for a variety of reasons, such as success in hunting or welcoming of strangers.  The meal would consist of four courses: the first platter contained two white fish boiled in water; the second served boiled tongue and breast meat of a deer; the third platter had two wood hens, the hind feet of a bear, and the tail of a beaver; and the fourth course was a large amount of broth made from several kinds of meat.  Maple syrup was mixed with water to make a sweet drink that was served with the meal.

The Potawatomi valued the resources provided by the lands and water around them.  They never took more than they needed of the plants and animals.  Instead, they shared with others their gifts from the land.

created by Mr. Foley - last update: 7-12-04 - Foley Homepage