Sunday, February 08, 2015


Weather: Sun currently reaching a level around 5 pm that sends its rays through the house from a south window into my eyes when I sitting on the north side.

Snow that was compressed by walking on it has turned into ice that persists in shadows. Elsewhere, the ground softens during the day. When I was in the post office yesterday, a man said he was ordering a load of base coarse for his drive. Last snow 1/30.

What’s still green: Juniper, piñon, and other evergreens, yuccas. Rose stems; leaves on grape hyacinth, Japanese honeysuckle, alfilerillo. One man burned his field yesterday; I think he was using a flame thrower to ignite moisture laden weeds.

What’s gray: Salt bushes, winterfat, snow-in-summer.

What’s reddened: Cholla, twigs on peach, apricot, apple, sandcherry and sandbar willow; purple aster leaves.

What’s yellowed: Young stems on globe and weeping willows; arborvitae have browned.

What’s blooming indoors: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Small birds. When I was out this morning, I saw cranes in a hay field near the river; Canadian geese were in the next field where vegetable are grown.

Weekly update: Piki is a thin corn bread made from dough like tortilla that’s cooked on a griddle. The sheets are folded or stacked. They were portable food taken by travelers, and eaten during kachina rituals.

During the fourth day of Soyal, spirit impersonators ate white wafer bread. The ceremonial meal after Powamu included piki and mutton stew containing bean plants. In the officiating kiva, the men ate "gravy, unrolled flat sheets of piki, and boiled beans."

Most often the wafer bread was made from white corn. Sheets made from blue meal are used for rites of passage like marriage and funerals. A few sheets were buried with eagles after Niman.

While it’s most associated with the Hopi today, Matilda Cox Stevenson saw Zuñi make he’wa in the early 1890s. A few decades later, Barbara Freire-Marco reported Santa Clara women used more wheat than corn for bread, but a half dozen women still made buwa. Hano called it mowa.

The three secrets to making piki are the dough, the coloring, and the stone. The use of an alkaline hydroxide solution to create an elastic dough was discussed in the posting "Corn Harvest," for 30 November 2008.

Marlene Sekaquaptewa says piki dough is made from finely ground meal and boiling water that’s stirred with a  stick made from greasewood. Then, boiling water is strained through greasewood ashes into the dough. The blue meal changes color when the pH reaches 8.

The Zuñi used slaked lime when Matilda Cox Stevenson saw them. At Hano, Barbara Freire-Marco said they used salt bush ashes. If Atriplex canescens wasn’t available in winter, then sheep dung was used.

The cooking surface is a flat stone heated over a cedar wood fire in a room reserved for the stone. Traditionally, women greased them with crushed watermelon seeds. Freire-Marco said Zuñi used chewed squash seeds, Santa Clara used marrow fat, and Hano any animal grease.

On Second Mesa today, Joyce Saufkie uses a mix of Crisco oil and pig brains. In the past she used cattle brains, but she says they aren’t available anymore.

The dough is spread on the stone, and picked off by hand. "Joyce says she retains all feeling in her palms and fingers, despite the intense heat, explaining that her swift motion and the insulating properties of the wafer-thin layers prevent injury."

Fewel, Clifford. "Joyce Saufkie and Her Family Keep the Art of Making Piki Bread Alive on Second Mesa," Canku Ota, October 2013.

Friere-Marreco, Barbara, William Wilfred Robbins, and John Peabody Harrington. Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916, on Hano and Santa Clara.

Spencer, Victoria and Marlene Sekaquaptewa. "Piki of the Hopi Indians," University of Pennsylvania Museum Expedition, March 1995.

Stephen, Alexander. Notebooks, 1882-1894, edited as Hopi Journal, 1936, by Elsie Clews Parsons, on Soyal.

Stevenson, Matilda Coxe. Ethnobotany of the Zuñi Indians, 1915.

Titiev, Mischa. Old Oraibi, 1944, on Powamu.

Voth, H. R. "Notes on the Eagle Cult of the Hopi," Publications of the Field Museum of Natural History. Anthropological Series 11:105, 107-109:February 1912.

Photographs: Good photographs of piki can be found in a You Tube video posted by Marlene Sekaquaptewa.

1. Corn chips made with blue or white meal. The blue uses whole grain corn, vegetable oil and sea salt. The white has more finely ground corn, oil and salt.

2. Cranes near the Río Grande, 8 February 2015.

3. Very dark meal finely ground, purple corn from Peru.

4. Varying shades of blue from processing. The corn chip is on top. Bottom right is a stone ground blue tortilla from whole corn, water and lime (the alkaline).  Bottom left is a blue corn taco shell made from blue corn masa flour and vegetable oil. Masa is tortilla flour made from corn, water and lime.

5. Medium ground blue corn meal still has the blue shells separate from the whiter interiors.

6. Geese in the field next to that of the cranes, 8 February 2015.

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