Hopniss, anyone?

by Alden Cole on July 22, 2014 · 0 comments

3HopnissWPRecognize the flowers? They’re the tiny edible flower clusters of the Hopniss plant, the Lenape Indian name for what is known variously as American groundnut, Indian potato, openauk, apios (pear) americana. I just discovered its name today by googling “American Indian edible tuber” and voilĂ ! lots of informational links. Check out the fascinating history of this ancient foodstuff online:

So how do I happen to have this plant, normally found growing in marshy areas and on riverbanks, growing in my backyard in South Philly? Years ago, there was an article in National Geographic magazine featuring Native American culture, that included a spread about the plant and its uses, plus a painted illustration that depicted very accurately the plant and its flowers. The illustration left a strong impression on my mind. Probably I had seen the plant growing somewhere on family property in Maine, so that the illustration jarred a memory. However it wasn’t until the summer of ’74 that I first took definite note of the plant and its delicate clusters of flowers, growing like a small hedge around the base of an oak tree that sat on the banks of a small stream edging the river garden that my dad had cultivated on the banks of the Saco River that runs through Dayton, my old home turf. Eventually my dad eliminated that particular patch growing around the tree, for reasons unknown. I know, because I went searching for the vine some years after, but it was not to be found. However, in my occasional walks along the Saco river I did discover other patches here and there on the property. I don’t remember which year it occurred, but sometime in the early 90s, after I bought my home in South Philly with its 16′ x 16′ postage-stamp-sized back-yard, while visiting the folks in Maine one spring, I sought out the river bank where I remembered last seeing the vine grow, and proceeded to dug around, for what I wasn’t sure, until I discovered a number of tubers underground; collected and bagged the small lot, brought them back home, and planted them in the garden. They took root, and have been coming up each year ever since. Now, after today’s informative search, I’m going to learn how to cook with them…

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