Navajo Food

Find out what are some traditional Navajo foods still eaten today? What are some traditional Navajo foods from the past, but not commonly eaten today? What are the various foods prepared from a sheep?

The principal food is mutton, boiled, and corn prepared in many ways. Considerable flour obtained from traders is consumed; this is leavened slightly and made into small cakes, which are cooked over the embers like Mexican tortillas.

The standard diet, established in tribal habits at Bosque Redondo (which was in effect a military boarding school for the “Americanization” of the Navajo), consists of mutton, fried bread, vast quantities of coffee with sugar and goat milk.

The Navajo tell many amusing anecdotes of their adjustment to the food of white people at Bosque Redondo. Those who came from the Navajo backwoods, beyond the forts, had never seen coffee. At first they tried frying the coffee beans, which did not improve the flavor; next they made porridge of them.

Grinding Sumac Berriies for Soup

Grinding Sumac Berriies for Soup

The Navajo of today claim that their dislike of pork and bacon dates from Bosque Redondo days when so many people fell ill from eating poorly cooked pork. This is a rationalization for their abhorrence, however, because as early as 1855 Davis observed that they loathed hogs.

Cooking Mutton and Sumac Berriies Soup

Cooking Mutton and Sumac Berriies Soup

The Navajo are very fond of goat meat. Reichard (1936:7) quotes a Navajo as philosophising: “It seems like you’re getting more to eat if it’s tough.”

The Navajo children drink some of the goat milk, but the tribe did not take over the European fondness for dairy products along with domesticated animals.

Miss Navajo-Frybread Contest

Miss Navajo Frybread Contest

Wild plants which were gathered for food in early times included greens from beeweed; seed from the hedge mustard, pigweed and mountain grass; tubers of wild onions and wild potato; fruit like yucca, prickly pear, grapes; wild berries such as currants, chokecherries, sumac, rose, and raspberries. Parties of women went into the mountains each year to gather acorns, pinyon nuts, and walnuts. In olden times, when a drought ruined crops, the pinyon nuts were the major food of some of the Indians. The nuts are now an important source of income to the mountain people. The gathering begins in the fall after the family has moved to the foothills for the winter, and in March, when the weather is better, the women gather more of the nuts. They do most of the seed gathering in June and July, while the men stay at home to hoe the gardens.

Wild potatoes, no larger than hickory nuts, formerly grew in abundance in certain parts of the Navajo territory, especially around Fort Defiance. Early travelers commented frequently on the broad fields of wild potatoes in the southern part of the reservation. From April till June these tubers served the Navajo as fresh vegetables. The potato has a very bad taste, so clay is used as a seasoning for it.

Yucca or “Spanish bayonet” was important as a relish and for adding variety to a meal. It was dried and baked, ground, roasted, and dried again before being made into cakes and stored away. Before being eaten, the cakes were mixed with water to make a syrup.

Foods (Primitive)

beans (native)
cedar berries
juniper berries
mescal (agave)
mountain sheep
piñon nuts
potatoes (wild)
rabbits (jack)
rabbits (cottontail)
rats (wood)
squash g
yucca fruit