What’s for lunch? Squash!

pumpkinsHave you ever been to a pumpkin patch? Do you visit one in October to grab a jack-o-lantern pumpkin? Maybe someone in your family has a great recipe for homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving? Visiting a pumpkin patch has become a special trip for us now. But in the past, Iowa farmers grew lots and lots of pumpkins in their fields. Iowa’s first farmers, the Ioway Indians, grew pumpkins as one of their three most important crops. Pumpkins and squash were easy to grow and they could grow to large sizes.

Lots of kids today have never tried pumpkins as a food. Many people have never tried squash at all! Pumpkins can be very tasty when cooked just right – even the seeds can make a great snack! In the 1700s, Ioway kids would have pumpkin or squash on their plates (actually, in their bowls) almost every day. And the kids would have to help grow the pumpkins their family ate.Ioway Garden

If you could see the Ioway’s fields, you would see tall stalks of corn with skinny vines wrapped around them. These vines had beans growing on them, climbing up the corn to get some sunlight. All around the ground, colorful pumpkins and squash grew, hiding under their big fat leaves.

Moms were the farmers of the family. But Mom had lots of help from aunts, grandmothers, and especially kids! After the older women had prepared and planted the gardens in the spring, the kids would help to take care of the plants and make sure that the crops were safe from weeds and animals. Of all the crops, pumpkins and squash really came in handy for the kids, because they helped keep animals away and kept the soil from drying out.  plants

Since pumpkins have big leaves, they kept the soil shady. This kept the soil from drying out as quickly. That meant the kids didn’t have to water the plants all the time! Squash vines are also very prickly. Have you felt one of the vines at a pumpkin patch? This helps to keep out small animals that might want to eat the corn and the beans. Can you imagine working very hard every day to have good food to eat, and then waking up to find out animals have snuck in to eat your crops? The pumpkins and squash help to make sure that doesn’t happen.pumpkins

When summer was over, Ioway kids would see that their squash had grown up into all sorts of different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Some of the squash would be cooked and eaten soon after it came off the vine. But most of it would be saved for eating in the wintertime, when no crops could grow.


The Ioway cut their squash and pumpkins into rings. The rings were hung on big drying racks. The sun and the winds dried the rings out, taking away moisture. The rings became dry, thin, and crispy. Families stored them in a cache pit – like an underground pantry – near the family’s home. When the family wanted to eat their dried squash during the winter, they would put it into soups and stews! cooking

Mom would put the dried squash rings into some boiling water, along with dried corn, dried beans, and whatever meat had been gathered by the father. The Ioway family might have soup and stew all winter, until they could start growing some fresh food again. If you wanted to live like the Ioway, you’d need to like soups and stews! Those were the main dishes that the Ioway had to eat in the wintertime. And hopefully, you’d like pumpkins and squash too, because those were some of the main ingredients in their stews.


The Ioway had to grow all of their own food for hundreds of years. Today some families still grow food in gardens, but we also have grocery stores to help out. And we can buy pumpkin and squash whole or in cans. Next time you go to the store, see if you can find any squash – it is still very tasty after all these years!


Parents and caregivers: The Ioway ate pumpkin and squash in stews, but there are many ways to introduce squash to kids. You can find kid-friendly recipes for squash here!


Fur Coats and Covers

lodge interiorHave you ever wondered where people in the past got the things they needed for everyday life? Where did their clothes come from? or their blankets? How about their tools and their toys? When we need something we just go to the store or get on the computer and buy it. The Ioway Indian people lived in Iowa a very long time ago. In the year 1700, these people did not have stores to go to when they needed something; they had to make the things they needed. They used the things they found around them to make their own tools and toys and even their clothes and blankets!  What kinds of things are found outside in Iowa? How about rocks? or plants and trees?

What about animals? Animals can be used in many ways; but what kinds of animals would Ioway hunters be able to find 300 years ago in Iowa?

bison Bison, or buffalo, still lived on the prairies in the 1700s. Deer and elk, and even bear were found in Iowa. Small animals like squirrels and rabbits lived in Iowa, too. Beavers and otters lived along Iowa’s rivers.beaver

How could people like the Ioway Indians make things out of these kinds of animals?

Many of these animals could be used for food. The animals’ meat would be eaten, and then the rest of the animal could be used for other things. Their bones were turned into tools, and their fur and skins were used for coverings. Different animals were better for different jobs. The skins of the bison (buffalo) that were hunted in the summer months were used to make covers for traveling houses, called tipis. The bison hair could be scraped away to make smooth and strong leather out of the skin underneath.tipi

During the winter, bison grow thick fur to stay warm. The Ioway hunted these furry winter bison to make nice warm blankets that the family would sleep on, cover up with, and wear like a coat. The man in the picture below is wearing a bison robe. Can you find anything else made from animals in the picture?buffalo robe

Animal skins with the fur still on were used for cold weather clothing. For summer clothes, the Ioway used skins without the heavy fur to stay cooler. Do you wear different clothes in the summer and the winter?Ioway clothes

Some animal furs were used to make hats. The man in the picture below is wearing an otter fur hat. Do you wear warm hats in the winter?otter hat

Think about all of the things in your house that are used to cover you up. What are your sheets, blankets, clothes, shoes, and coats made out of? Would you want to have to make all of those things yourself?

Cooking Out–Ioway Style

Summer is coming to a close. Over the past weeks, many people have been grilling food for picnics and barbeques to celebrate the last of the great weather. Even our 1700 Ioway historical guides were cooking outdoors to celebrate the nice weather. What were they making at the Ioway Farm? Fish! Do you like to eat fish? The Ioway word for fish is hó.

WalleyeWhen the Ioway Indian people lived here 300 years ago, they would get fish from the rivers near their homes. In the larger rivers of Iowa like the Mississippi, Missouri, and Des Moines, the Ioway people could find up to 20 types of perch (like the walleye in the picture on the left), 12 types of sunfish, 10 types of catfish, 3 types of pike, 2 types of bass, and 1 type of trout (like the brook trout seen below). Learn more about the different types of fish native to Iowa here.brook trout

The Ioway would use woven nets or bone fish hooks to catch the fish. Once a fish was caught, there were many ways that it could be cooked. One cooking style involved leaving the fish whole, scales and all! After cleaning out the inside organs, the whole fish would be covered in clay that was gathered from the river banks. In the example below, you can see a whole fish, head and scales included, covered in wet clay!

Cover fish with clay

The clay-covered fish would be placed on top of hot coals from the fire and then covered with more hot coals.

Place on hot coalscover with hot coals

As the clay heated and dried, it would cook the fish inside. When the clay began to crack, the fish was done cooking.cook until clay cracks

The clay would then be cracked open and the meat could be removed. The fish’s scales would be left stuck in the clay.scales come off with clay

The bones could easily be removed from the meat and the fish would be ready to eat!

Food Adventures at the 1700 Ioway Farm

pizzaWhat is your favorite thing to eat? Do you love pizza? Will you eat chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese? Will you only eat them if they don’t touch other foods on your plate? Do you like broccoli? How about cabbage? In 2014, we have lots of different foods to taste and love. There are so many choices out there that we can be pretty picky about our food. Many people will only eat certain things and hate to try anything new.


Being able to pick and choose is a new idea! Today, we eat almost any kind of food we want any time of year. We can have strawberries in December. Even though strawberries don’t grow in Iowa in the winter. Iowans eat oranges any time of year. Even though oranges don’t grow here! We use trains and trucks to bring oranges and strawberries to Iowa from far-away places like Florida.


Before trains and trucks were invented, Iowans had to eat what was available—often just what they could grow or hunt for themselves. Today we can put food in the refrigerator or keep it safe in cans and plastic bags. Before fridges and cans were invented, people had to eat some food right away. Fruit that grew in summer wouldn’t be around in winter. Many times, people had to eat things that weren’t their favorite because their favorite food wasn’t growing at that time of year.Ioway

In the 1700s, the Ioway people lived in Iowa. There weren’t any trucks, trains, or airplanes to bring food from other places. Ioway moms and dads could not go to a grocery store to buy food. Families had to find food in the prairies and woods around them. The Ioway people grew plants to eat. An Ioway garden had corn, beans, and pumpkins growing in it. Ioway gardenHow many different ways do you think there are to cook and eat corn, beans, and pumpkins?

Actually, there are a lot of ways to eat these plants. During the late summer, the Ioway could eat the corn right on the cob like we do. Some of the corn would be cooked slightly and dried to eat later.ground corn Corn harvested later in the fall would be hung up in the sun and dried out. The dry corn would last a long time. Dried corn could be ground up and used as flour for bread or used to plant the next year. Beans could be eaten green in summer.beans In fall, the beans dried out on the vine and were shelled. Dried corn and beans were cooked in soups and stews. The soup water made them soft again.

Pumpkin could also be cut up into thin slices and dried for soups. pumpkin drying

Besides corn, beans, or pumpkin, soup might have meat in it, too. Ioway families ate prairie chickens, wild turkey, elk, deer, and buffalo. Meat and berries would also be dried to eat in soups later.cooking over the fire

Do you like soup and stew? If you were an Ioway child in 1700, you would eat a lot of soup and stew. Why? It was an easy meal to get ready and keep hot. Each Ioway family prepared their own daily meals. There was often no set meal time. Men and women had different chores and might be too busy to eat together. Food would be prepared and kept warm for each family member to eat when they had time. Ioway foodways

There were times when members of the tribe would come together with each other and with other tribes to have feasts. Especially in late summer and fall when the garden was ready, the Ioway would celebrate together! Visitors were almost always treated to food. It was considered impolite to refuse food offered to you.

On July 12th, the 1700 Ioway Farm at Living History Farms will be making a pumpkin corn stew to celebrate Ioway Culture Day. They will have samples to share. Modern Ioway dancers will also be showing off their talents. Come join us for the celebration! If you can’t make it out to see us on Saturday, you can work with a parent to make an Ioway stew in your kitchen. Try this recipe! The Ioway did not have plastic or glass measuring cups, so the amounts are by the handful.Game stew

Game Stew

Meat from an animal the Ioway would have hunted (1lb of bison or venison (deer) is good, but beef works too–even though the Ioway did not have cows to hunt. Ground bison is available from some grocery stores and health food stores today!)

Couple handfuls of fresh or dried corn (1 can of corn will work)

Couple handfuls of dried beans

Broken up pieces of dried squash or pumpkin (bite sized slices or small chunks of fresh acorn or butternut squash or pumpkin work too!)

Handful of dried wild onion (dried or fresh regular onion may be used)

Maple syrup (a couple good squirts or a tablespoon or so should be enough)

Put everything in pot, add enough water to cover everything well (more water gives you a soup and less water gives you a stew), hang over fire (or medium heat on stove) and let cook for a couple hours (it is ready when the beans and squash are soft and meat is cooked through). Eat when you are hungry.

*Add more or less of each item based on how many you are feeding. Any type of bean and squash/pumpkin can be used or even multiple varieties of each can be added (or you can leave one out if you prefer). Each time you make this you can try different combinations of items and you will get different flavors.