Do raisins belong in Indigenous cuisines?

Do raisins belong in Indigenous cuisines?

Indigenous peoples love a good debate. What’s the name of that delicious flatbread made at powwows and in kitchens on Turtle Island? Is it bannock, roast bread, scone or skaan? Best fried or baked?

The discussion gets even more complicated when you throw raisins in the mixing bowl – and it sparks heated debates on social media.

After a month-long investigation into whether or not raisins belong in traditional and contemporary indigenous cuisines, CBC Indigenous has found that indigenous palates are both grapey for those little dried fruits or make the taste buds shrink like a…well, you know….

raisin lovers

Sherry Ann Rodgers, originally from the Anishnabe (Algonquin) community in Rapid Lake in western Quebec, opened Anishnabe Kwe Café earlier this year in Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, 136 kilometers north of Ottawa.

Baskets of fried bread are on a table.
Sherry Ann Rodgers uses a cast iron skillet to fry her bannock. (Anishnabe Kwe Cafe/Facebook)

She makes and sells fried raisin bannocks daily.

“We love our raisins,” Sherry Ann Rodgers said of her home church.

“I grew up on raisin cakes and fried raisin donuts and all that.”

Tim Fontaine also grew up eating raisin cakes. The Winnipeg-based Sagkeeng First Nation writer even likes raisins in butter tarts and rice pudding.

Former journalist Tim Fontaine launched the satirical website Walking Eagle News to take a humorous look at the complicated relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples. (Canadian Press)

“Raisin Bananock isn’t my number one favorite, but I love it,” he said.

“I know that on the prairies, like in Manitoba and in Saskatchewan … there’s a lot of raisin activity … It’s almost like indigenous soul food.”

“Raisins are disgusting”

The Minister for Crown Indigenous Relations Marc Miller has visited many Indigenous communities in his role and consequently sampled a lot of Bannock. CBC Indigenous asked him to contribute to the debate.

“In the past, the Minister has expressed a preference for a particular Bannock vendor at the Kahnawake Powwow, which has only served to damage relationships with other respected Bannock makers. Accordingly, no further comment will be made,” said a statement from his office.

“Besides, raisins are disgusting.”

Bannock bakes in pans over an open fire during Flavors of the North on Parliament HIll in Ottawa in December 2017. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

Beyond Bannock, raisins have wormed their way coast to coast into regional dishes like wild rice, traditional soups and even meat pies.

While Anishinaabe author Waubgeshig Rice likes to eat raisins on their own, he’s not a fan of adding them to indigenous foods like wild rice and skaan.

“It tastes kind of weird, feels kind of weird,” he said.

“Although I reject them in some foods, I do not express any caustic or angry feelings towards them or people they like because we adapt foods to our own cooking and lifestyle.”

A man stands against a background of orange trees and looks at the camera.
Waubgeshig Rice is developing a sequel to his 2018 book Moon of the Crusted Snow, which was voted the 2019 Evergreen Award Winner. (Submitted by Waubgeshig Rice)

Bannock himself is a perfect example of this, he says.

commodity foods

While many indigenous nations across North America traditionally have some version of bread, the modern bannock, made from wheat flour, was introduced by Scottish settlers.

Europeans also brought the raisins we know from overseas, says Tawnya Brant, chef at the Six Nations of the Grand River.

Tawyna Brant hails from Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario.
Chef Tawyna Brant was a contestant on Season 10 of Top Chef Canada. (

They are also linked to a colonial history of poverty and exclusion. The long shelf life of a box of raisins made them ideal staples shipped by government officials to Native American communities across the United States.

“There are just so many things we do that we don’t know why we’re doing them. We just do them because that’s the way it’s always been done. And I think that’s kind of where raisins lie,” she said.

Raisins are added to Indian biscuits in Six Nations – a spiced ginger biscuit borrowed from British influences.

“I hated them growing up,” Brant said of raisins.

That’s why she doesn’t find raisins in any of the dishes in her restaurant Yawékon. She prefers to cook with cranberries or blueberries, as these are native to the region.

A dessert made with Indian blueberry biscuit bread pudding.
Bread pudding with Indian blueberry cookies served at Yawékon. (Yawékon/Facebook)

Nonetheless, she believes that the Kanien’kehá:ka, Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, and Tuscarora were also historically likely a confederation of Raisin Nations.

“Concord grapes are the only native grape variety grown domestically. All the others are from Europe,” Brant said.

“Raisins are something that comes from a commodity. But it shouldn’t have been something totally outside of our realm because drying was a big deal to us… We dried everything else. We dried strawberries and dried blueberries.”

Baked, not fried

Like Brant, Paul Natrall prefers to cook with cranberries over raisins when it comes to the food he prepares at Mr. Bannock’s.

The Squamish Nation chef has been running the Vancouver Food Truck since 2018.

He said it’s hard to deny the nostalgic feelings raisins evoke.

Paul Natrall is a chef from the Squamish Nation of British Columbia.
Paul Natrall opened the Mr. Bannock Food Truck in 2018. (Mr Bannock/Facebook)

“My grandmother used to love using them,” Natrall said.

“You can’t beat a freshly baked bannock with raisins… Whether you like it or not, it’s out there and people are really enjoying it.”

For raisin lovers like Fontaine, it’s all about the meaning raisin Consciousness.

“You don’t even know what you hate,” he said.

“Try it. You will be surprised. If not, more for us.”

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