I have frequently made one of a party who has sat round a fresh-killed deer, and assisted in picking the bones quite clean, when I thought that the raw brains and many other parts were exceedingly good; and, however strange it may appear, I must bestow the same epithet on half-raw fish
June 10, 1772
A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean in the Years 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772
Those poor people live in such an inhospitable part of the globe, that for want of firing, they are frequently obliged to eat their victuals quite raw, particularly in the Summer season, while on the barren ground; but early custom and frequent necessity make this practice so familiar to them, that so far from finding any inconvenience arise from it, or having the least dislike to it, they frequently do it by choice, and particularly in the article of fish; for when they do make a pretence of dressing it, they seldom warm it through. I have frequently made one of a party who has sat round a fresh-killed deer, and assisted in picking the bones quite clean, when I thought that the raw brains and many other parts were exceedingly good; and, however strange it may appear, I must bestow the same epithet on half-raw fish: even to this day I give the preference to trout, salmon, and the brown tittemeg, when they are not warm at the bone.
The extreme poverty of those Indians in general will not permit one half of them to purchase brass kettles from the Company; so that they are still under the necessity of continuing their original mode of boiling their victuals in large upright vessels made of birch-rind. As those vessels will not admit of being exposed to the fire, the Indians, to supply the defect, heat stones red-hot and put them into the water, which soon occasions it to boil; and by having a constant succession of hot stones, they may continue the process as long as it is necessary. This method of cooking, though very expeditious, is attended with one great evil; the victuals which are thus prepared are full of sand: for the stones thus heated, and then immerged in the water, are not only liable to shiver to pieces, but many of them being of a coarse gritty nature, fall to a mass of gravel in the kettle, which cannot be prevented from mixing with the victuals which are boiled in it. Besides this, they have several other methods of preparing their food, such as roasting it by a string, broiling it, &c.; but these need no farther description.
The most remarkable dish among them, as well as all the other tribes of Indians in those parts, both Northern and Southern, is blood mixed with the half-digested food which is found in the deer's stomach or paunch, and boiled up with a sufficient quantity of water, to make it of the consistence of pease-pottage. Some fat and scraps of tender flesh are also shred small and boiled with it. To render this dish more palatable, they have a method of mixing the blood with the contents of the stomach in the paunch itself, and hanging it up in the heat and smoke of the fire for several days; which puts the whole mass into a state of fermentation, and gives it such an agreeable acid taste, that were it not for prejudice, it might be eaten by those who have the nicest palates. It is true, some people with delicate stomachs would not be easily persuaded to partake of this dish, especially if they saw it dressed; for most of the fat which is boiled in it is first chewed by the men and boys, in order to break the globules that contain the fat; by which means it all boils out, and mixes with the broth: whereas, if it were permitted to remain as it came from the knife, it would still be in lumps, like suet. To do justice, however, to their cleanliness in this particular, I must observe, that they are very careful that neither old people with bad teeth, nor young children, have any hand in preparing this dish. At first, I must acknowledge that I was rather shy in partaking of this mess, but when I was sufficiently convinced of the truth of the above remark, I no longer made any scruple, but always thought it exceedingly good.
The stomach of no other large animal beside the deer is eaten by any of the Indians that border on Hudson's Bay. In Winter, when the deer feed on fine white moss, the contents of the stomach is so much esteemed by them, that I have often seen them sit round a deer where it was killed, and eat it warm out of the paunch. In Summer the deer feed more coarsely, and therefore this dish, if it deserve that appellation, is then not so much in favour.
The young calves, fawns, beaver, &c. taken out of the bellies of their mothers, are reckoned most delicate food; and I am not the only European who heartily joins in pronouncing them the greatest dainties that can be eaten. Many gentlemen who have served with me at Churchill, as well as at York Fort, and the inland settlements, will readily agree with me in asserting, that no one who ever got the better of prejudice so far as to taste of those young animals, but has immediately become excessively fond of them; and the same may be said of young geese, ducks, &c. in the shell. In fact, it is almost become a proverb in the Northern settlements, that whoever wishes to know what is good, must live with the Indians.
The parts of generation belonging to any beast they kill, both male and female, are always eaten by the men and boys; and though those parts, particularly in the males, are generally very tough, they are not, on any account, to be cut with an edge-tool, but torn to pieces with the teeth; and when any part of them proves too tough to be masticated, it is thrown into the fire and burnt. For the Indians believe firmly, that if a dog should eat any part of them, it would have the same effect on their success in hunting, that a woman crossing their hunting-track at an improper period would have. The same ill-success is supposed also to attend them if a woman eat any of those parts.
They are also remarkably fond of the womb of the buffalo, elk, deer, &c. which they eagerly devour without washing, or any other process but barely stroking out the contents. This, in some of the larger animals, and especially when they are some time gone with young, needs no description to make it sufficiently disgusting; and yet I have known some in the Company's service remarkably fond of the dish, though I am not one of the number. The womb of the beaver and deer is well enough, but that of the moose and buffalo is very rank, and truly disgusting.