It’s all about giving something from the heart, and then having fun watching people enjoy their tastings at the TMY fry bread booths. It’s also all about the family cooks who shape the dough balls into sweet or savory traditional delights.
Fry bread is part of the narrative of Native American history, linked more than a century ago to the Dine or Navajo’s forced 300-mile journey known as the “Long Walk,” when the people could not access their traditional crops. The US government gave the Dine canned goods as well as white flour, processed sugar and lard, and the fry bread was born. Now fry bread is linked in happier way through generations of Native Americans who see the fry bread often as a symbol of pride and celebration, a thick and soft staple of pow-wows and state fairs.
For Veronica Harvey, one of the cooks of The O’odham Ladies whose popular booth graced TMY this past year, fry-bread making is an important community celebration as well. The food represents an enjoyment of cultural life, she says.
The O’odham Ladies began in the 1970s, grown from a friendship between Veronica and Alice Juan when they worked together in the Tucson Indian Center. Alice and Veronica began selling at street fairs, including setting up a booth in Old Pascua during Easter ceremonial week more than 20 years ago. Now The O’odham Ladies include Veronica’s children as well as sisters and nieces…with grandchildren also participating as cooks-in-waiting. The O’odham Ladies brought their fry bread to Tucson Meet Yourself just this year and are happy they did.
At first The O’odham Ladies were nervous about serving TMY crowds that numbered 100,000. But then, with oil bubbling in their skillets, Veronica, Alice and The O’odham Ladies crafted hundreds of dough balls into works of cultural art, piercing, puffing and fashioning them with chilis and beans, almost as second nature. People lined up to wait for The O’odham ladies’ freshly made savory fry breads or Indian tacos made with ground beef, chili and beans, or to roll up and sample the sweetly dusted popovers as well as fruit punch concoction.
A lot of family traditions are squeezed into the work of The O’odham Ladies, which was born with friends and families working together, says Veronica. “We shop for our ingredients locally. It’s almost like putting together gifts for our neighbors, because so many regulars look for us year after year,” Veronica notes, continuing, “It’s also a gift for Alice, I and all the others, because we’re able to listen and be part of the community celebration, like in Old Pascua, and to give back to the community in meaningful ways.”
TMY was an important and heart-warming experience for The O’odham Ladies’ and their families, and both Alice and Veronica say The O’odham Ladies will look forward to it again next year. They want their families to understand that working together can make a difference in the world around them, and food is a vehicle to do this.
The ingredients and variety of native popovers are endless, but Veronica and Alice know that each cook adds a special ingredient when they shape their dough, and that’s what makes the fry bread unique. “That special ingredient is love,” they say.
- Read about the health debate involving fry bread: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/9022063/ns/us_news-life/t/icon-or-hazard-great-debate-over-fry-bread/
- See More Than Frybread movie video promotion tour visit to Sells and Tohono O’odham community: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3VKt5HZZoQ