Manataka American Indian Council

 

 
 
 
Timpsula, Turnip of the Prairie

By Kay Fleming

 

As I try to make long story short, I won’t go into details as to why I was watching the Food Network but to my surprise they were discussing Woodenknife Native American fry bread. The Prairie Turnip was mentioned as the Lakota Sioux’s “secret” ingredient in fry bread. If you have been on very many of Dr. Heinz Gaylord’s hikes through Ivy Payne’s Preserve, you might remember his discussion of a similar plant he had located along the trails. 

Called Timpsula by the Lakota Sioux, the Prairie Turnip (Pediomelum esculenta) is also known as Indian breadroot, Tipsin, Breadroot Scurfpea, Pomme de Terre, Prairie Potato, and Tipsinna. The Prairie Turnip was probably the most important wild food gathered by Native Americans who lived on the prairies.  In 1805 the Lewis and Clark expedition observed plains Indians collecting, peeling, and frying prairie turnips. The Lakota women told their children, who helped gather wild foods, that prairie turnips point to each other. When the children noted which way the branches were pointing, they were sent in that direction to find the next plant.  This saved the mothers from searching for plants, kept the children happily busy, and made a game of their work.  Prairie turnips were so important; they influenced selection of hunting grounds.  Women were the gatherers of prairie turnips and their work was considered of great importance to the tribe.

 

Lewis and Clark called Timpsula the "white apple" and their French boatmen called it pomme blanche.  In 1837, while crossing the James River basin, Captain John Fremont referred to it as Pommes Des Terres, which in French literally means “apple of the earth” or “ground apple.” The Pomme de Terre of the North Minnesota River Basin was named for the prairie turnip, which thrives in the area.

Timpsula produces a spindle-shaped tuber about four inches below the ground. This tuber, although nutritionally similar to a potato, differs in taste and texture due to different types of sugars and starches. Removing a coarse brown husk exposes the white edible portion. If the thin portion of the root is left attached, the tubers can be woven together into an arm-length bundle for easy drying and transport. When air-dried, the tubers can be stored indefinitely. Timpsula has been a source of food and commerce on the Great Plains of North America for centuries. The tuber can be eaten raw, cut into chunks and boiled in stews, or ground into fine flour. The flour can then be used to thicken soups, or made into a porridge flavored with wild berries. Mixed with berries, water and some tallow, the flour can be made into cakes, which when dried, make a durable and nutritious trail food. Historically, Timpsula was thought to have occurred in prairies throughout the Great Plains from Saskatchewan to north Texas. In the Dakotas it is still relatively common in prairie tracts that have not been plowed or grazed too heavily. It flowers in May and June and ripens in June and July. It's important to know when the plant ripens because when collected too early, the roots are limp and depleted from initiating spring growth; look too late, and the above-ground plant will be gone because it breaks loose at ground level and blows across the prairie like a tumbleweed spreading its seeds.

It is no accident that, in the Lakota language, the month of June is called tinpsila itkahca wi, meaning the moon when breadroot is ripe. Think of it as food for the now extinct plains grizzly, which, according to William Clark, dug it from the prairie with a passion. The wandering Sioux traded it to the Arikara for corn. Timpsula even enters the renowned legend of John Colter's escape from the Blackfeet, because it reportedly became his survival food. Hugh Glass undoubtedly ate it on his famous crawl across the South Dakota plains after being mauled by a grizzly in 1823. When you eat fry bread made of Timpsula, you are eating wild from our historic prairie land.

Here in Texas there are several plants related to the Prairie Turnip. Pediomelum hypogaeum, the edible Scurf-pea, is the only species that has been mentioned as “an important food source for American Indians.” It has been found throughout East Texas and into the cross-timbers and prairies west and south of Dallas. The scientific Genius name Pediomelum gets its meaning from the Greek: Pedion, meaning plain, and melo, meaning apple. The staple food of our Native Americans the “plains apple” is still around and still providing a treat for the adventurous. Our Prairie Turnip looks somewhat like an undernourished blue bonnet and can be easily overlooked.  Its root however is a different story. What our “plains apple” lacks in blossom it makes up for in root. Take a good plant key with you, someone who can pump out a stomach, or a Lakota Sioux and  “Bon-Appetite.”  

 


(Note much of the content of the preceding article was taken from “Southern-Metis genealogy/Culture.” Written by Carolyne Gould in 2001 via the Internet.)

 


Fry Bread's Secret Ingredient!

Timpsula: Prairie Turnip Psoralea esculenta - also known as the prairie wild turnip, Indian breadroot, and several other names. This is one of the ingredients used in our fry bread mix. The Prairie Turnip was probably the most important wild food gathered by Indians who lived on the prairies. In 1805 a Lewis and Clark expedition observed Plains Indians collecting, peeling, and frying prairie turnips. The Lakota women told their children, who helped gather wild foods, that prairie turnips point to each other. When the children noted which way the branches were pointing, they were sent in that direction to find the next plant. This saved the mothers from searching for plants, kept the children happily busy, and made a game of their work. Prairie turnips were so important, they influenced selection of hunting grounds. Women were the gatherers of prairie turnips and their work was considered of great importance to the tribe. IN 1804, Lewis and Clark called it the "white apple" and their French boatmen called it pomme blanche. In 1837, while crossing the James River basin, Captain John Fremont refers to it as pommes des terres, or the ground apple. I learned it as Indian breadroot, but it's most commonly called prairie turnip. The Lakota call it timpsula.

Timpsula produces a spindle-shaped tuber about four inches below the ground. This tuber, although nutritionally similar to a potato, differs in taste and texture due to different types of sugars and starches. The white edible portion is exposed by removing a coarse brown husk. If the thin portion of the root is left attached, the tubers can be woven together into an arm-length bundle for easy drying and transport. When air dried, the tubers can be stored indefinitely.

Timpsula has been a source of food and commerce on the Great Plains for centuries. The tuber can be eaten raw, cut into chunks and boiled in stews, or ground into a fine flour. The flour can then be used to thicken soups, or made into a porridge flavored with wild berries. Mixed with berries, water and some tallow, the flour can be made into cakes, which when dried, make a durable and nutritious trail food.

Historically, tinpsila occurred in prairies throughout the Great Plains from Saskatchewan to north Texas. In the Dakotas it is still relatively common in prairie tracts that have not been plowed or grazed too heavily. It flowers in May and June and ripens in June and July. It's important to know when the plant ripens because, if collected too early, the roots are limp and depleted from initiating spring growth; look too late, and the above-ground plant will be gone because it breaks loose at ground level and blows across the prairie like a tumbleweed spreading its seeds. It is no accident that, in Lakota, the month of June is called tinpsila itkahca wi, meaning the moon when breadroot is ripe.

Think of it as food for the now extinct Plains grizzly, who, according to William Clark, dug it with a passion. The wandering Sioux traded it to the Arikara for corn. Tinpsila even enters the renowned legend of John Colter's escape from the Blackfeet, because it supposedly became his survival food. It was undoubtedly eaten by Hugh Glass on his famous crawl across the South Dakota Plains after being mauled by a grizzly in 1823.

Harvey Dunn's memorable painting "The Prairie Is My Garden" depicts a pioneer woman and her children collecting flowers from nature's garden. When you eat fry bread made from timpsula, you are truly eating from our prairie garden.

CREDITS:
http://www.woodenknife.com/

 

 

 

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