While I’m not much for adventures that involve crowds, loud noise, or frenetic activity, I enjoy out of the ordinary explorations. We unexpectedly hit the magic button on our latest road trip and found ourselves looking through several families’ no longer needed treasures and eating Indian tacos. Even better, a Shoshone grandmother prepared our food under blue Wyoming skies. While we ate, we enjoyed visiting with her husband, a tribal artist whose work hangs in offices and homes around the world.
The key to our unplanned side trip was a garage sale sign stuck along the ditch of a road through a reservation. Once we spied the invite, we said, “Let’s see what they’ve got.” The irony in that comment is that both of us are over sixty and have plenty our own loot we could sell and not miss. Despite knowing we have dust collectors decorating our home, we can’t help but inspect what other people have spent a lifetime acquiring. Heck, who knows when you’ll find a petrified dinosaur tooth or a Made in Occupied Germany teacup?
While we didn’t find dinosaur dental work or rare porcelain, we did find aged buffalo horns, an antique hunting knife, a heavy chef’s skillet, local literature, and homemade Indian tacos made by a professional.
Over decades, I’ve learned garage sales are perfect places to sample local foods. In Northwest Kansas, I’ve bought German bierocks, hertzen, spitzbuben, and Bohemian kolaches. You know when you see the “homemade” sign, you’re in for a treat. There’s something about a woman serving her family recipes that makes her put her best work into what ends up as food for gods.
The lesson learned on this journey was that women everywhere share this tradition. The silver-haired elder shaping a dough ball before frying it in hot oil was every bit as proud of her traditional food as women in Ellis, Rooks, Rush, Russell, and Trego Counties who tempt taste buds with mouthwatering fare. As she swiftly formed an oval, the cook explained she could never make her recipe in batches that served less than 80 people. With that kind of practice, it’s no wonder forming those discs looked so easy.
I like making fry bread myself, but this woman’s was better than mine. As I listened to the bread sizzle on the camp stove, I told her how I mixed my simple ingredients. In a flash, she identified two ways to improve my recipe. Ironically, one of those was the addition of butter flavored Crisco to the flour mixture until it crumbled like pie dough before adding liquid. She also let me know my use of milk darkened and hardened my product. After seeing her golden results, she’s right.
We ate under mid-August rays, savoring chili, lettuce, tomato, and cheese –topped fry bread and discussing Indian art, native colleges, and garage sale bargains. By the end of our meal, we knew one another’s names as well as our preferences for serving this traditional staple.
Following our instincts and turning into that garage sale was the best part of our expedition. We may not have found an ancient fossil, but every time I make fry bread I’ll smile and recall this chance encounter where I learned to cook from an expert.