More than 30 people gathered on Oct. 14 at Awbury Arboretum for the second annual Native American-inspired dinner to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day.
Indigenous Peoples Day is a holiday meant to be celebrated in lieu of Columbus Day as a way to remember the indigenous people of North America. It was first celebrated nearly 30 years ago in California and has several states and municipalities across the United States have begun doing so.
The dinner was held at the Francis Cope House at the Awbury Arboretum, which straddles the boundary between East Germantown and East Mt. Airy. The food was prepared by Sue Wasserkrug who is an anthropologist and owner of Zea May’s Kitchen, a catering service which specializes in Native American cuisine.
“I love to spread the word about the contributions of Native American culinary traditions,” said Wasserkrug, when explaining why she chose to cater the event.
The Awbury Arboretum regularly holds dinners at the Cope House for its dinner series where chefs prepare themed meals for attendees.
“The pop-up dinner series started several years ago,” said Heather Zimmerman, the program director at the Awbury Arboretum. “The Cope House is such a beautiful space for weddings and milestone occasions, we wanted to be able to offer the experience of dining to the general public. The dinners serve as an educational experience connecting people with topics related to culture, agriculture, and horticulture.”
Wasserkrug’s menu was completely vegetarian, and some dishes were vegan or gluten-free.
“Developing a menu is a lot like painting a picture,” said Wasserkrug. “Or, for that matter, any other creative process.”
Friends Susan Schewel and Michelle Mahan were among those who attended the dinner.
“It wasn’t what I expected,” said Mahan. “I gained an understanding that basically some of the everyday foods that we eat are actual foods that are from this very land.”
The first course consisted of a chilled corn soup accompanied by a blue corn muffin. The entree featured roasted bell peppers filled with quinoa, butternut squash, and beans with a layer of melted cheese. A chayote squash, carrot, and red onion slaw with lime vinaigrette and a sweet potato pone were served with the peppers. Finally, for dessert, Wasserkrug served a flourless chocolate cake and a bannock with a blueberry wojapi.
“I try to use a combination of common and unusual ingredients, but in new and different ways,” said Wasserkrug.
The dinner was sold out and the dining room held two tables of guests sharing conversation over their food. Some in attendance were there to support the Arboretum, some to eat Wasserkrug’s food, and others simply to celebrate the holiday.
For the past several years, Awbury Arboretum’s staff have been planning events like this to make it more of a cultural resource for the community. Other dinner and food series events include titles like “Eating Antiquity,” “April in Paris,” and “A Wild Foraged Afternoon Tea,” each connecting food with specific historical or cultural topic. Wasserkrug is holding a Native America-inspired venison supper this coming January, also as part of the Cope House dinner series.
“This event was driven by Chef Sue and her passion for Native American cuisine and the Arboretum’s commitment to serving and respecting a diverse constituency,” said Zimmerman.
The dinner’s intention was to give guests an opportunity to come and eat together on Indigenous Peoples Day in celebration, but attendee Susan Schewel looked at it differently.
“I don’t think of it as celebrating, but remembering,” said Schewel. “I think it’s important to remember whose land we’re living on. It’s the least we can do to think of the native population here once a year.”
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