Utensils for cooking evolved right along with foods and preparation techniques. Boiling stones were tennis ball size stones put into the fire to be heated to red-hot. Then they were transferred into a liquid with fish, meat or other foods. The stones were removed and reheated as needed to keep the pot simmering. Boiling stones crack after many uses and can be dangerous if not used properly. Below is a link for a video showing a boiling stone demonstration today and you can see how the transfer of heat occurs as well as how messy the process is.
This Boiling Stone Video shows how to cook using boiling stones.
This method of cooking works well with seafood, since it cooks so quickly and would be a great way to make a stock or broth. Archaic Indians were eating more fish and shellfish than their predecessors. They also used this method to obtain bone grease from boiling bone fragments of bison. They would use the grease to make pemmican, which is a combination of dried jerky and dried berries, pounded to a powder like consistency, with grease added to hold it together.
Seafood soup or broth made with boiling stone is a natural. The ingredients are simple and the dish is nutritious. Since seafood cooks so quickly, the transfer of heat would only need to continue for minutes, but for optimal flavor additional cooking time would have been necessary. Cooking a whole, but gutted fish, provided more nutrition since the head contained nutrients as well. For instance, the thyroid gland in the fish was left intact when the head was cooked and the nutrients were transferred to the soup.
The tools used for preparing and cooking meals were improving as the Archaic Indian began creating a wider variety of stone, shell, wood, antler and bone implements.
In the fall when hickory nuts covered the ground like a blanket of snow, they were a reliable source of food and could be eaten right away, stored for later or made into a nut butter using a nutting stone. A nutting stone was used to crack open the hard outer shell of the hickory nuts and the nutmeat was removed and processed by boiling with water then skimming the top layer of nut “ butter”. Some nuts were dried then pounded and mixed with water for a broth like mixture to drink or cook with in soups and stews. Hickory nuts vary in taste, size, shape and meat contents.
Acorns from the red oak family are bitter and toxic but were probably the ones used to make acorn cakes, only after a process to remove tannins and other impurities from the nuts. They would shell, grind and bury the nuts in the hot moist ground to leach out the bitter tannin and toxins. Squirrels must know this instinctively since they bury their nuts in moist soil for months and the tannins are naturally removed before they dig them up and eat them. Chestnuts are similar in taste to acorns and need to be roasted before eaten to help remove some of the bitter tannin.
Forrest fires might have provided the first taste of roasted nuts followed by roasting in the campfire coals. This updated version uses the oven rather than campfire and walnuts are a good substitute for hickory nuts.
Mock Hickory Nut Roast
1 cup walnuts, shelled
Place the nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Use the middle rack in the oven.
Roast at 325 degrees for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the nut, stirring occasionally.
These can be eaten right away or pounded into a meal and used in other recipe.
Nuts stored in the freezer keep much longer then those left at room temperature.
Another technique would be to place flat stones in the fire until extremely hot then moving them with a stick to the desired location to use as a griddle for cooking smaller cuts of meat or roasting shelled nuts.
1 cup hickory nuts or walnuts, shelled
Place the nuts in a single layer on a hot stone at the edge of the fire and roast until done.
In north Florida every year my father collected bags of these nuts from his driveway and yard, but not for eating. They are so plentiful yet so hard to crack, with so little nutmeat, he usually tossed them in the backyard fire pit. Collected from woodland areas acorns, hickory nuts, berries, cabbage palms, persimmons, poke weed, cattail, saw palmetto berries, yaupon holly, sea grapes, coco plums, coontie and prickly pear are all still a part of the Florida landscape. Growing up in the western panhandle of Florida we often found the charm of foraging calling us into the woods, down by the lake or along the shores of the bay and Gulf of Mexico. Roaming about looking for wild edibles did not always provide us with a bountiful supply of foods, but what an adventure we had finding arrowheads and shells with holes drilled in them from years gone by. We felt a sense of connection with the ones who walked the area and lived off the land before we arrived with our electric refrigerators, stoves and dining rooms.
Recommended reading for more information:
A History of Cooks and Cooking, Michael Symons
Food a History, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto