Citizens, the Hopi are a Native American tribe, who primarily live on the 2,531.773 sq mi (6,557.26 km2) Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona.
There were 18,327 Hopi in the United States, according to the 2010 census. The name Hopi is a shortened form of their autonym, Hopituh Shi-nu-mu (“The Peaceful People” or “Peaceful Little Ones”).
The Hopi Dictionary gives the primary meaning of the word “Hopi” as: “behaving one, one who is mannered, civilized, peaceable, polite, who adheres to the Hopi way.”
Hopi is a concept deeply rooted in the culture’s religion, spirituality, and its view of morality and ethics.
To be Hopi is to strive toward this concept, which involves a state of total reverence and respect for all things, to be at peace with these things, and to live in accordance with the instructions of Maasaw, the Creator or Caretaker of Earth. The Hopi observe their traditional ceremonies for the benefit of the entire world.
Traditionally, Hopi are organized into matrilineal clans. When a man marries, the children from the relationship are members of his wife’s clan. These clan organizations extend across all villages.
Children are named by the women of the father’s clan. On the twentieth day of a baby’s life, the women of the paternal clan gather, each woman bringing a name and a gift for the child. In some cases where many relatives would attend, a child could be given over forty names, for example!
The child’s parents generally decide the name to be used from these names. Current practice is to either use a non-Hopi or English name or the parent’s chosen Hopi name. A person may also change the name upon initiation into one of the religious societies, such as the Kachina society, or with a major life event.
The Hopi have always viewed their land as sacred. Agriculture is a very important part of their culture, and their villages are spread out across the northern part of Arizona. The Hopi and the Navajo did not have a conception of land being bounded and divided. They lived on the land that their ancestors did.
Blue corn originated with the Hopi and is considered sacred – the “bread” baked from it is called Piki.
Piki bakes almost instantaneously and has the look and consistency of blue crepe paper – it is extremely fragile, paper thin and shatters into tiny pieces like a cornflake when bitten into. It is peeled from the cooking surface in sheets so thin they are literally translucent. Several sheets of the bread are often rolled up loosely into flattened scrolls.
While totally non-traditional, a variety of dips, such as a thin hummus, are excellent served with Piki.
Piki is prepared by Hopi women in various phases of the courtship and marriage ritual. It is eaten by the couple on the morning of the marriage ceremony.
The secret to making Piki is the seasoning it uses of ashes from a burned juniper bush.
Lending a strong flavor, juniper ash is often used enough in tribal dishes that many Native Americans burn a significant amount of the bush at one time to have ashes on hand to add to recipes.
In addition, the ash causes a chemical reaction that increases both Vitamin A and calcium in the cornmeal, unlocking the full nutritional value of the dish. Fortunately, I have found a source of Juniper smoking chips that you can purchase and burn to make the required ash for this recipe.
As noted on this scholarly food site:
Piki bread is a renowned Hopi specialty food. Although it can be made from white, yellow, or even pink corn, piki made from blue corn is considered the finest and most traditional type.
To make wafer-thin piki, it’s necessary to prepare a smooth, cohesive batter. Fine-ground corn flour is first mixed with plain boiling water and then allowed to rest while its fiber content softens and its starches swell. The resulting soft dough is then thinned with alkaline ash water to the consistency of crêpe batter.
Piki bread is baked on a piki stone, a hand-smoothed, highly polished rectangular sandstone slab raised on four legs. The stone is heated to around 700°F by building a juniper or cedar fire underneath it. Crushed melon or squash seeds are scattered on top to release their oil as they heat. After the charred, oily seed residue is rubbed over the stone’s surface to season it, the stone is brushed clean and piki baking commences.
The piki maker uses her bare hand to quickly smear a paper-thin layer of batter across the surface of the stone in a neat rectangle. As soon as the batter sets and the edges begin to lift and brown, the sheet is peeled off and set aside on a tray. When the next rectangle of batter has been smeared on the stone and begins to set, the original sheet is placed on top of it to warm and soften slightly.
As soon as it becomes pliable, the top sheet is folded into thirds, rolled up into a slightly flattened cylinder about the size of a corn cob, and placed on a serving platter to cool and become crisp. This process is repeated until the serving tray is piled high.
Citizens, I fully recognize this is a recipe requiring both tremendous technique and unusual ingredients. That said, honor the Hopi way and try this – at least once! It may become an addictive habit. 😉 You can buy Juniper wood chips for making the needed ash from here and blue cornmeal from Amazon here.
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- 1 cup Green juniper ash
- Sunflower oil or lard (For greasing the cooking stone or griddle – very traditionally, the fat from an animal’s brain was used for this purpose)
- 1 cup Blue cornmeal
- 1 cups Boiling water
- 3 cups Water
- Mix ash with boiling water; strain juniper ash into pot. Stir. Add blue cornmeal. Stir with wooden spoon or stick. Let cool. Spread on hot, greased griddle or stone with palm of hand. Be certain the layer is very thin. Cook for a very short time.
- As soon as the batter sets and the edges begin to lift and brown, the sheet is peeled off and set aside on a tray. When the next rectangle of batter has been smeared on the stone and begins to set, the original sheet is placed on top of it to warm and soften slightly.
- As soon as it becomes pliable, the top sheet is folded into thirds, rolled up into a slightly flattened cylinder about the size of a corn cob, and placed on a serving platter to cool and become crisp. This process is repeated until the serving tray is piled high.
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