Hey Victor! Remember when Thomas Builds The Fire emerges from the gas station to get back on the bus, hair free flowing and looking just ever sacred in his ‘Frybread Power’ t-shirt? Of course, you do. That t-shirt called attention to something that we all know. Frybread is powerful. What other contemporary food has found its way into essentially every nation of the Turtle Island? What other modern, cultural subject causes as much controversy as the ingredients for great frybread? Regardless of where it really came from or what you call it, it’s resilience exemplified. Our ancestors were given the most basic of rations and with that they came up with something to nourish the people, not only in the physical sense but also in the spiritual sense by keeping the tradition of gathering the people together alive.
I remember when I learned how to make frybread. My mom came busting in my room just early one weekend morning and said, “Hurry up, I’m going to show you how to make bread. We’re having tacos tonight for your brother’s birthday.” Now my family’s recipe, it isn’t just any frybread. This is award winning frybread. This is that fluffy, sweet bread that you can scoop chili up with or spread your commod peanut butter on. People on my rez know this frybread and when they see one of us bringing it to a gathering, they say things like, “Oh man, those ladies really know how to make good bread, I gotta have some.” I learned how to make it just the way that my mom learned how from my great grandma Esther and now I’m going to teach you the same way.
Get started by greasing the bowl that you’re going to let the dough rise in. Frybread dough is sticky. I did this step before we started recording but you can see the inside is shining, just like your forehead in the morning before you wash your face.
I make half the original recipe most of the time because the full recipe makes enough bread to feed a whole entire oyate*. We’re only feeding the tiwahe* with this recipe. I put 5 cups of flour in my greasy bowl and throw in a pinch of salt with it.
Take out two bowls. The first bowl will be to mix up your yeast. To that bowl you will add ¾ cup of warm water and 1 package of yeast and mix. Don’t use rapid rise yeast or bread machine yeast. In the second bowl you’re going to add 1 ½ cups of hot water and ¼ cup+2 tablespoons of sugar and mix. Let the bowl of hot water and sugar cool to lukewarm and then add 2 eggs.
To combine it all together, I like to mix the two liquids together and then dump them into the dry ingredients. Some people like to use their stand mixer to mix their bread. I like to use the mixers that Creator put at the end of each of my arms. My mom told me that Grandma Esther emphasized that overmixing makes frybread chewy, so I mix mine just until the ingredients are combined. Then, I put a flour sack towel over the bowl and tuck it in for a rest in a warm, dark spot.
After a few hours, you will want to punch it down and leave it alone for a while again (just like Auntie does after Uncles comes slinking on home from a weekend with the boys). Once your dough has risen to about double in size, it’s time to fry it. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet to fry it in, you can use a regular skillet, but I wouldn’t mention that to anyone, or you’ll never hear the end of it. Fill your skillet up with lard or oil and turn the heat on medium high. I like to toss a little piece of dough in when I think the oil is ready to make sure. Ideally, your oil will start cooking the bread right away and float it to the top. When the dough sinks because the oil is not hot enough, you could end up with bread that gets saturated with oil while it cooks. Some people roll their dough out in flour and cut it into sections. I’m an Oglala though and my people are known for being a little chaotic and wild. I put pieces off the dough in the bowl, shape it a bit in my hands until it’s round and then lay it in the oil. I make smaller pieces for soup or wojapi and big plate sized ones for tacos.
As your bread cooks, you can put the finished pieces in a cake pan lined with paper towels. If you’re taking it to go and you want to be real traditional, put it into an empty carboard box or paper bag. Urban relatives, we know you like to be cho snaz and put your bread in Ziplocks but that stifles its spirit so don’t seal it all in like that outside of the unlikely event that there is some leftover after everyone eats.
*oyate: tribal nation
*tiwahe: immediate family
- 5 cups of Flour
- 1 pkg Yeast
- 3/4 cup of Warm Water
- 2 Eggs
- 1/4 cup + 2 table spoons of Sugar
- 1 1/2 cups of Hot Water
- 1 pinch of Salt
- Cooking Oil for frying (Vegetable Oil)
- Combine Yeast and Warm Water
- Combine Sugar and Hot water (Let cool)
- Add Eggs to Sugar and Water mix
- Combine Flour and Salt
- Combine all 3 mixtures *Don’t over knead*
- Let rise in a warm, dark room until doubled
- Pull pieces of dough, stretch, fry in a pan (preferably cast iron) filled 1inch to 1/12 inches of cooking oil.
- Cook on both sides till golden brown