Thíŋpsiŋla Wóžapi, also known as the best wild berry-based condiment you haven’t had yet. Thanksgiving turkey, venison, pheasant, all the meats, and plenty of other things too, sweet and savory, will all be improved with a few spoonfuls of this.
Wóžapi is arguably the most famous condiment I know of in many North American Native culinary traditions. It is a very old sauce, referenced in just about every book on Native American cooking and ethnobotany I’ve ever read, and, unlike some things I discuss on this site, still made regularly by many people all over North America in the Indigenous community.
Basically a stew of fruit, Wóžapi is a simple recipe, with lots of variations as is common when a dish is very special or has a deep cultural significance. You take some fruit, cook it with water, maybe a touch of maple syrup (sugar seems to be more common now) reduce it down until it’s a nice saucy consistency, and, that’s it, kind of.
As I understand it, traditionally this should be made not with fresh fruit, but with dried. And not just any dried fruit. To get the closest to the real-deal, historical sauce Native people enjoyed, (and still enjoy) you would want to use dried patties made from čhaŋpȟá, or chokecherries.
To make the patties, you take fresh chokecherries and pound them, stone and all (I’ve also seen them put through a meat grinder) fashion the pounded fruit into cakes, then dry them in the sun until cracker dry.
From there, you cook the dried patties of fruit in water, simmer it until thickened, season, and serve. Traditionally the stones are left in the sauce, and I’ve been told that elders enjoy the crunch of the shell fragments.
Timpsila / Prairie Turnip Flour
This is the real break from tradition that really isn’t a break from tradition, per se. I set out to make this to try using timpsila/prairie turnip flour as a thickening agent instead of cornstarch. A Lakota man had mentioned to me that he liked to use timpsila flour to thicken his wojapi, but I was skeptical.
At this point in time I had yet to harvest a decent amount of them, so I thought that grinding the tubers into a flour to thicken something like berry sauce would be a total waste. It isn’t, not in any way, shape or form. The dried timpsila have a strong aroma that’s somewhere along the lines of other-worldy radish.
The flavor of the timpsila comes through well, and makes for an exciting berry sauce unlike any I’ve tasted before. If you have timpsila, or if you can find some, it’s really something worth doing, especially as it only takes a small handful to make the recipe. If you have to use a bit of cornstarch, that’s ok too, as I know a lot of people do. Either way it’s fun way to use fruit that isn’t a super-sugary jam or jelly.
Wild Berry-Timpsila Wojapi
- 2 teaspoon maple syrup
- 4 tablespoons timpsila flour *see note
- 2 cup strong fruit juice preferably chokecherry
- 1 cup fresh or frozen fruit I used wild blueberries and raspberries.
- Pinch of kosher salt
- Splash of vinegar to taste, preferably made from the same wild fruit you used to make the juice
- Wisk all ingredients except the vinegar and fruit in a small saucepan together while cold. *
- Add the fruit, bring the mixture to a simmer and cook on medium-high heat until reduced and thickened to your liking. I like it quite tart and not sweet, but many people like it sweet.
- Before serving, add a splash of vinegar and gauge the seasoning for salt, sweetness, and sour (vinegar) adjust as needed and serve. If you’d like the sauce thicker, cook It a few minutes longer. It is excellent with braised pulled meat, especially venison and bison.