We did not go to the baseball game yesterday, because the A’s were in Tuscon. Instead, we went to the 49th Annual Heard Museum Indian Fair. Not Native American, Indian. Apparently, actual Indians are a lot less sensative about the terminology than people in Berkeley. (On the other hand, there are a lot fewer actual people from India here to make things confusing.) We went without knowing much about it, other than there was going to be dancing and art and fry bread, but those seemed like good enough reasons to us. The art was a mixed bag; lots of chunky silver jewelry and paintings of wolves and eagles looking noble, some beautiful and very expensive pottery and weavings and a few cool pieces in my approximate price range, which I bought. The dancing was likewise cool, with different troupes representing various regions (Navajo, Plains, Northwest, Mexico). I am typically made very uncomfortable by the “displays of native dancing” put on for tourists, and avoid them whenever possible, but for some reason I was fine with this, even liked it. I suppose it had to do with the lack of pretense about what we were watching: these were professional performers on a public stage, not some kind of anthropological curiosity under glass. Like watching morris dancers at a ren fair, only more entertaining and with less of a risk of having someone call you “wench”.
But frankly, the hit of the party was the fry bread. Which is, in fact, fried bread. You could get it with beans or honey, but not both. We went with honey, which came generously applied and showed a tendency to spread to all available surfaces. It was also very popular with the cloud of honeybees that had gathered over the grounds and which forced me to do the kind of odd flapping you do when you’re trying to drive something off without actually hitting it. Eventually we managed to broker a truce, with me eating the still-dripping bread and the bees happily slurping up the pools of honey on the plate. So it was a very succesful snack, though I did spend the rest of the day being rather sticky.
Our other food-related adventure had fewer insects but more cultural intrest, and also sand. There was, as a kind of combination food stand and cultural display, a couple of women making parched corn and pika bread, both traditional dishes that make you very happy to live in a place and time where you do not have to make traditional dishes. The bread was made by a woman taking small handfuls of a blue cornmeal batter and spreading it in a thin layer with her bare hand over a piece of stone, The stone, which was about two inches thick, was sitting over a constantly roaring fire and after a minute or two she would peel up the paper-thin sheet of bread and roll it into a tube. It looked like it might be good, but the servings were so few and far between that there was really no hope of getting one, so we settled for the parched corn. That was a handful of corn kernels cooked in a pot with very fine sand (to distribute the heat) and stirred non-stop by another woman, who was assited by what appeared to be her mother and daughter. After about ten minutes of cooking, the woman would scoop the corn out with a strainer into a colander, shake the sand out and sponge it down with salt water. Then the older woman would go through the basket, picking out all the burned pieces while the corn cooled, before the girl (who was probably ten or eleven) carefully filled styrofoam cups all the way up to the brim, patting them down to make sure they were nice and even. I know this all because each batch only produced about five servings, and there were about ten people in line ahead of me, so I had plenty of time to watch and learn.
In case you were wondering, parched corn tastes a lot like corn nuts, only smaller and less likely to break your teeth.