Indian fry bread is a Native American quick bread that’s fried and served either on its own, drizzled with honey, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, or topped with ground beef and other taco ingredients. Though the tradition of fry bread is common among many Southwestern Tribes, it is the Navajo who developed this recipe. I do not feel that I can share the recipe without sharing it’s origins and what it means to some today. The Navajo planters lived from the Earth as their ancestors had for hundreds of years before. They also raised livestock to feed their family. The Navajo dinetah (or homeland) was bordered by the four sacred mountains, from northeastern Arizona, western New Mexico, and north into Utah and Colorado. They planted crops in the fertile valley lands, such as Canyon de Chelly known for Ansazi ruins.
The Navajo traded with the Spanish, Mexican, Pueblos, Apache, Comanche, and even the early American pioneers. Around 1846, large numbers of pioneers moved into the area and the cavalry came with them. This is when troubles began. The troubles escalated with the murder or Narbona (1766-1849), a well-respected Navajo leader on August 31, 1849. On this day, Narbona along with several hundred of his warriors, had come to meet and discuss peace with U.S. Colonel John M. Washington and others of the military stationed in the area. There had been trouble with the New Mexican settlers who had driven Mexican settlers out of the area.
After several hours, it was believed a settlement had been agreed upon. However, a young warrior by the name of Sadoval, had plans of his own. Mounting his horse he began to ride in front of the Navajo party, attempting to have them break the treaty. A U.S. Calvary soldier began to say that one of the horses ridden by a Navajo was his, and what peace there was in the meeting that was disintegrating into battle. Colonel Washington commanded the Navajo to stand down and return the horse to the soldier or he would fire into them. The rider and horse were now gone, and the Navajo party did not comply. A canon was fired, and Narbona was mortally wounded. It is told that he was scalped by a U.S. soldier as he lay dying.
This disastrous attempt at peace led to the Long Walks. In September 1863, Kit Carson (1809-1868) was dispatched into Navajo land to retrieve a surrender. When no Navajo came to meet with him, he ordered the burning of the land. Attempts were made to starve out the Navajo and many were captured and taken to Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner. Hundreds starved on the 300 mile walk and more would die later in the crowded and disparaging conditions.
Navajo were placed with the Mescalero Apache where home peace was often not the case. The camps were meant for 4,000 to 5,000 people, yet there were now over 9,000 people, and supplies were meager. The government supplies of lard, flour, salt, sugar, baking powder or yeast, and powdered milk were often rancid. Fry bread came from these few foods provided during the 4 years of captivity. Since that time, it has become common food at most all PowWows of numerous tribes.
To some, Indian fry bread is a sacred tradition. It is to be consumed by the people until the earth has again become purified. Wherever one finds Indian fry bread one finds its taco equivalent, and curiously enough, it’s often named after whichever tribe the reservation belongs to. Today, indian fry bread is generally known as a Carnival or State Fair treat to the general public. In some areas of the United States, this sweet treat is known as Elephant Ears. It is a quick bread that’s fried and served as a sweet treat, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
INGREDIENTS 3 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 teaspoons baking powder 3/4 cup milk Water (as needed to get dough to come together)
Vegetable shortening (or lard for frying)
Add flour to a bowl. Then add baking powder. Some recipes call for yeast, and some don’t have any leavening at all. But the baking powder seems to work best for me. Next, add some salt. Now just stir the flour mixture together… While you slowly drizzle in some milk. Give it a stir for a little longer to incorporate the milk as much as possible… Then slowly drizzle in about 1/2 cup of water as you continue to stir gently.
Stop just when it comes together; don’t stir the heck out of it. And add more water if you need to—just enough to make it finally come together. And now. This really makes a difference. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it sit for 30 minutes…45 if you have it. This really makes a difference in how the dough handles, and how it fries up, which I learned the hard way the other day when I made fry bread and it didn’t turn out as well.
This also makes a difference. With my other batch of fry bread (the one I made the other day) one of the mistakes I made was using canola oil to fry the bread. But it just didn’t do the trick like Crisco. When you’re ready, grab a little bunch of dough. Using your fingers, begin pressing in the center of the ball and continue to press, stretching slightly as you go. I like the texture of the fry bread using this method much better than if I use a rolling pin…but it could be because with the rolling pin I always tend to roll it out a little thin.
I like the lumpiness of pressing it. But I’m weird and don’t know anything. Fry them on one side until golden brown, about a minute or so, then carefully turn them over (I use tongs so the oil won’t splash) and continue frying them for about 30 to 45 seconds. Remove them from the pan and let them drain on paper towels. If you want a bigger piece, just start with a larger ball of dough. I hope you’ll enjoy such a sacred food like this traditional Indian fry bread.
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