Dorsey Ebarb Bronson, of Mobile, Alabama, hopes the best way to a lawmaker’s heart is through his stomach.
She’s a member of the Choctaw-Apache Tribe of Ebarb, on the Louisiana side of the Sabine River near the border with Texas. The tribe is recognized by the state but not by the federal government.
Bronson compiled “Louisiana Cooking by Native American Choctaw-Apache: Recipes and Memories with Family and Friends,” a cookbook and collection of family members’ memories of life in Ebarb.
“For the past 20 to 30 years, we’ve been going to a family reunion,” she said. “We all stay together and talk about what all we remember from when we were younger, and family stories.”
Food and treasured family recipes are a big part of a family’s legacy. Bronson wanted to preserve the folklore and recipes for not only herself and her family but also for the entire tribe.
So she set out to visit relatives, to write down oral histories and gently coax guarded recipes from them.
“It was an incredible experience, to revisit where I grew up,” she said, recalling favorite spots from childhood. “Even the spring is still flowing.”
Christina Meshell Sepulvado is the family’s central character. Affectionately known as Goodmama, she had 44 grandchildren, including Bronson, and lived to age 90. As the eldest of those grandchildren, Henry Anthony Ebarb recalled, she “was the boss and manager of the family. She directed all of us on what we would be doing each day, including my grandfather, Dora (Papa) Sepulvado.”
Irish potatoes were buried in sand to preserve them, while sweet potatoes were stored in pine needles. Honey came not from a plastic bear, but from beehives tracked down in trees. A huge iron outdoor cooking pot was one of the hardest working implements on the farm.
Bronson collected recipes for pork roast, squirrel head soup, fresh venison back strap, turtle soup, fried alligator, squash casserole, mayhaw jelly, pumpkin bread, gooey peanut candy, cushaw, tamales, shrimp gumbo, fried chicken — a simmering pot of Native American, Southern and northern Louisiana flavors.
“Some of these recipes are more than 100 years old,” Bronson said. “This is such a collective effort. We are all authors of this cookbook.”
Bronson is giving $5 from the sale of each book to the tribe, of which she is an elder.
The book is $29.95, which includes shipping and handling, and is available at choctawapachecookbook.com.
Goodmama’s Chicken Soup is one of Bronson’s favorite recipes in the book.
“If somebody had a baby,” Bronson said, “Goodmama would make this soup and take it to them along with a baby quilt she had made.”