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Oklahoma Works

Occupational Traditions of Oklahoma

Bill Pickett, an African-American cowboy

Some call it being an apprentice, others say they learned from an old-timer, and some got "on the job training." Many occupations in Oklahoma were learned by listening and observing and by participating. Cowboys learned to move cattle by anticipating the other workers and did not wait for verbal cues; pipeliners listened to the wrench tap out a rhythm on the pipe and then moved their pry bars accordingly; hay haulers learned to "buck" the bails to the top of the wagon load as the wagon moved forward; teamsters learned their trade from other teamsters; lumbermen learned by watching and participating; and carpenters learned the square from master carpenters. Until recently learning an occupation rarely required a handbook or formal training. This section is devoted to the traditional ways of Oklahoma's occupations.

Choctaw Cowboy

Oklahoma Cooks

Foodways of Oklahoma

Oklahoma foodways include:soul food, fry bread,

Choctaw frybread

kolaches, bierocks, fish fries, dried meat, meatballs, enchiladas, peanut brittle, pickled watermelon, wild onions, egg rolls, cornbread, fried steak, sofkee, venison sausage, meat pies, barbecue, pecan pies, tabouli, black-eyed peas, tamales, and many more wonderful foods.

Oklahoma Cooks was researched and written by Pat Bellmon Hoerth in 1989. The book was a joint project of the Oklahoma Arts Council and the Oklahoma Folklife Council. The purpose of this collection was to focus on the diverse foodways traditions of Oklahoma. The project was also supported by Homeland Stores and was published in 1989. Cu Nguyen, Opal Dargan, Anita Marinez, and Margaret Nelson assisted in the collection of recipes. Ellen Johnson, Ann Seale, and Willie Smyth offered direction and support to the effort as did Dr. Baker Bokarney of Oklahoma State University. All recipes were checked or tested by Oklahoma State University's School Restaurant Management. Testing was done at The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, Oklahoma. The following are excerpts from the original cookbook:

Barbeque Sauce
Cry Baby Cookies
Salad Dressing
Wine Cookies
Cough Syrup
Egg Butter
Grandma's Fried Chicken
Chicken Fried Steak
Fried Corn Fritters
Water Pie

Creek women pound corn to make sofkee

Hog frys are often the attraction at events in Oklahoma's Cherokee Nation and elsewhere in Oklahoma. The iron kettles are placed over hot wood fires then lard or cooking oil is added until the liquid is boiling. Hog parts are then dumped in. The meat is fried until done then served hot.

These days, Oklahomans cook and eat foods from many cultures. Pizza and tabouli have become as familiar and popular as chicken fried steak. This book, Oklahoma Cooks, is intended to preserve the recipes and celebrate the cooks of Oklahoma's varied populace. There is a large group of recipes that cannot be identified with any specific group, place or religion; other recipes reflect a specific cultural origin. All the recipes have come down through families, but there is more to food than eating and cooking.

Just mention specific foods and watch the reaction. Say "peanut brittle" to Ruth Freeman of Enid and it is not only a flavor she conjures up, but an annual ordeal with her mother and aunt. Say "moussaka" and the women of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City remember the laughing they do and the stories they tell as they brown hundreds of pounds of beef and stir great pots of white sauce for months prior to their annual Greek Festival.

Say "kolache" and the Czech women of Prague can tell you who won the prize for the best kolache in which year. Say "water pie" and a family, remembering the Depression, can smell the dust as well as the pie.

Food experiences bind a group or a family. Though mostly assimilated, the many cultures in the state help retain their unique identities by making and sharing their traditional foods. Women connect with earlier generations of women when they cook the food their ancestors cooked; they feel part of a family when they make Grandmother's recipe for mincemeat, remembering that "no one could make it the way she did." They feel proud of their heritage when they celebrate their culture by cooking their ethnic food for the general public.