CHEROKEE EATS: Kanuchi
Hickory nuts gathered after the first frost are used to make the Cherokee delicacy kanuchi. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Rocks are used to crack open hickory nuts for the Cherokee food kanuchi. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Hickory nuts are ground into a paste to make kanuchi. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Mashed hickory nut meat is formed into a ball when preparing the traditional Cherokee food kanuchi. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
This batch of kanuchi is mixed with hominy. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BRUSHY – A rich, seasonal Cherokee delicacy known as kanuchi requires a heap of hickory nuts and just as much elbow grease.
Also known as ganvtsi to Cherokees, kanuchi is a traditional food handed down through the generations, said Mary Owl with Cherokee Nation Public Health.
“In the beginning it was a survival meal,” she said. “Then after a while it became a traditional dessert because they started putting sugar in it.”
During a CN-sponsored traditional food demonstration on Dec. 8 at the Brushy Community Center, CN language specialists David Crawler and Phyllis Sixkiller explained the kanuchi process first in Cherokee, then in English.How to prepare:
Gather hickory nuts when they fall from the trees after the first frost.
“It’s usually around fall,” Sixkiller said. “Sometimes when they fall, they’ll still have the hull on them. They’re really hard to take off.”
Then dry the hickory nuts in a box, basket or other container.
“I remember Mom used to put them by the wood stove,” Sixkiller said. “She would keep them probably about two weeks after you picked them up. So after two weeks, they get dry.”
Once the nuts are dried, they are cracked open with a rock.
“You get them as fine as you can,” Sixkiller said. “To me it’s a stress reliever. I can sit in the floor and crack them all night long. What I do is get a quilt and put it on the floor. Then I get another cloth like a tablecloth or something, and I put that over the quilt. I’ll crack all my nuts and just shove them on top that tablecloth on top of the quilt. When I’ve got maybe a batch of them like that, I’ll pick up the table cloth that’s got all of the cracked nuts and put them into a container.”
Cracked hickory nuts are sifted and strained.
“You see the nuts are falling and the hulls are staying in here,” Sixkiller said. “There should be more nuts than hulls.”
Traditionally, the nuts are then placed in a mortar, or kanonv in Cherokee, where they are mashed into an oily paste with a stick.
“I remember Mom used to use a big Folgers coffee can,” Sixkiller said. “Anything will work. You can use a bucket or a coffee can. You just pound it. The nuts are sticking together, but you have to remember there are some hulls still in there. Some people while they’re doing this, they’ll add water, like a tablespoon to kind of keep it moist. It gets really, really oily.”
The nut meat is then formed into a ball roughly the size of a baseball.
“You shape it, then it’s like a ball and it will stick together,” Sixkiller said. “There’s still hulls in there.”
The kanuchi ball is heated in water until it dissolves, then a finer strainer is used to remove remaining hulls.
“You make sure the (screen is) real tiny,” Sixkiller said. “It’s going to catch all of (the hulls).”
The kanuchi can be added to pre-cooked rice or hominy.
“Hominy grits, that’s what Mom used,” Sixkiller said. “Some people use rice or some kind of corn.”