UNC Pembroke was at the crossroads of Native food and culture on November 12 at the annual Honoring Native Foodways celebration.
With cooks from the university and surrounding community bringing their best recipes, local and American Indian food never tasted so good. A menu that included deer chili, elk meatballs, greens, turnip soup, pecan pie and pine needle tea drew more than 200 to the University Center Annex.
Honoring Native Foodways is sponsored by the American Indian Studies Department and the Southeast American Indian Studies program and is part of American Indian Heritage Month at UNC Pembroke. For some, it is a completely new experience, and for others, it reconnects them with their ancestors.
Community members like Jennifer Dorman contributed to the feast. Dorman first brought her pulled deer specialty to the event when she was an undergraduate student majoring in American Indian Studies. Today, she works in the Indian Education program of Scotland County Schools.
“I bring deer meat every year. My uncle killed this deer in Columbus County,” Dorman said. “I soak it overnight in vinegar to take out the game flavor. Then, I cook it for six hours in a crockpot with sweet onions and bacon.”
The result is remarkable, as are Jerlene Maynor’s homemade sweet pickles. Maynor happily gave a detailed recipe with one special ingredient. “You can put a little bit of you in it,” she said. “If you like it, put it in.”
Maynor’s pecan pie, which definitely had a little of the cook in it, was a crowd favorite and is a traditional favorite around Thanksgiving. Locally, the pecans are falling.
Pine needles are falling in Layla Locklear’s yard, and she brewed pine needle tea with honey and ginger. It wards off a sore throat and congestion, she said.
“I make quite a lot of it this time of the year,” Locklear said. “If somebody is coming down with something, I go out and collect some pine needles from the yard.”
The cooks were mostly from Robeson County, but Jiong Youyi, a visiting scholar from China, brought a bowl of flavored tofu. She admired Millard Locklear’s display of locally grown vegetables.
“I like these vegetables,” Youyi said, posing for photos with Locklear. “In China, I grow vegetables.”
Locklear, whose farm is in the Union Chapel community, grows a wide variety of vegetables and is seeking organic certification for three acres on his farm. He’s all about local and healthful food.
Native Foodways means comfort food for many of the guests who grew up with it. But there were surprises. Breanna McNeill, a student and American Indian Studies major, found a new taste experience. She was sampling chow-chow, a seasoned pickled cabbage that is a flavor enhancer for greens, pork and more.
“I really like the chow-chow,” McNeill said. “I’ve never had it before. I also like the elk meatballs that my professor, Dr. (Rose) Stremlau made.”
James Freeman, UNCP’s entrepreneur in residence and a former Pembroke restaurant owner, said the beans and chips were surprising and excellent. “But you always hvw to go with the hometown favorite pecan pie,” he said.
Rocky Locklear, a graduate student, said he is familiar with most of the offerings. “The turnip soup takes me back to my grandmother in the kitchen,” he said. “I love it all.”
Tonya Locklear, Layla’s mother, was serving, but took time to sample some old favorites. “The corn soup is wonderful,” she said.
Chancellor Robin Cummings and his wife, Rebecca, are also familiar with most of the dishes. Both grew up near the university.
“This is home,” Chancellor Cummings said, over a plate with a little bit of everything on it.