HOLLYWOOD — Cooking a meal outside over wood harvested from a nearby forest is an activity as old as humankind itself. Although the convenience of cooking in an air-conditioned kitchen using modern appliances is a far more popular way to make a meal, the tradition of an open campfire still persists within the Seminole Tribe.
On the Hollywood Reservation, the Culture Department feeds the Tribal community a traditional meal every week during the summer at the cooking chickee behind the Boys & Girls Club. On July 27, Indian stew, frybread and mashed bananas were on the menu for all to enjoy.
“We are teaching people how it is done out in camp,” said Bobby Frank, Hollywood Culture director. “You never know when you may have to fall back on it. People call it camping; we call it survival.”
Under the chickee, a large grate was positioned over oak and cypress wood. Frank and others from Big Cypress gathered to cook the meal. The heady aroma of the burning wood enveloped the volunteers. Children who showed up were promptly put to work and gained experience working the dough for frybread, but only adults put the dough in the hot oil to cook.
“I like doing this because it’s traditional,” Lance Howard, 11, said. “And at the end you get to eat it.”
For adults, the cooking chickee is a comfortable place, even in the heat of the day.
“It’s very simple food,” said volunteer cook Letitia Foster. “But you can’t forget the love.”
“And the hard work,” added Bonnie Williams, who manned the pot of hot oil for the frybread.
Frank believes youth should learn how their elders lived back in the days before modern conveniences. He often leads trips with groups of kids to gather wood at Big Cypress and to go gigging in Trail.
“I try to put some uncommon sense into their heads,” he said. “In order to cook, you need to get the wood. This was hard living; everything was gathered. It is important to carry on the Seminole lifestyle.”