mary-jane-edaakie-frybread-customers
Photo by Dinah Vargas
Mary Jane Edaakie gets bread ready for customers at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology on the University of New Mexico’s Albuquerque campus.

Frybread at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology: It’s a Family Affair

Frances Madeson
4/4/16

The Edaakie family of Isleta Pueblo has been bringing their oven bread-baking and frybread-making demonstrations to the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology on the University of New Mexico’s Albuquerque campus every spring for 18 years. Along with the Indian tacos and posole (a traditional hominy stew), they’ve been making a lot of sweet memories in the process. “I remember when my youngest son Alex was a toddler,” said Mary Jane Edaakie, “I’d be cooking, or doing this or that, and I’d see this little hand come reaching up over the edge of the table going for the powdered sugar.”

Together with her husband Robert, they pack the family truck with the supplies to make oven bread in the traditional clay orno in the Maxwell’s courtyard, as well as other menu items. They bring their own burners, propane tanks, pots, oil—everything. They even pack their own wood. “This year we brought cottonwood that we gathered from the woods near our home,” Mary Jane said. “But if we have time we like to go to the mountains and collect cedar.”

The Edaakie family (Mary Jane and Robert pictured) of Isleta Pueblo has been bringing their oven bread-baking and frybread-making demonstrations to the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology on the University of New Mexico’s Albuquerque campus every spring for 18 years. (Photo by Dinah Vargas)

The Edaakies arrive at the museum around 9 a.m. to begin preparations, all of which re done on-site. “It’s a lot of work, we basically don’t sit down all day. We were a lot younger when we started this!” Mary Jane said. As soon as they arrive she prepares the dough for rising. Then Robert brings the wood and loads up the orno, while she starts the beans. By 10:30 she’s making her loaves and rolling out another kind of dough for the frybread. “By 11 we usually have a line of people ready to eat.”

Stephanie Mack, a graduate student in Public Archaeology (“archaeologists who work with everyday real people, like in the Park Service,” she explained), was patiently waiting in line. “I’m excited. I’ve heard about the Edaakies for two years now, but always missed them. Either I had a class, or I didn’t have money on those Wednesdays.” She ordered the posole, took a bite and pronounced it “delicious.” Longtime volunteers from the nearby Hibbens Center, a teaching lab for introductory archaeology, were happily lunching in the sunshine-filled courtyard. The space was soon filled with an elementary school class whose teacher had engineered a detour in order to swing by for two loaves of oven bread.

Mary Jane Edaakie keeps an eye on the orno. (Photo by Dinah Vargas)

While Mary Jane made the sale and Robert attended to the frybread, their niece Thania Jojola, 23, rolled out the dough with a belillo, a small rolling pin. With its knob she made two holes in the dough, one in the center and another in the corner. “So it’s easier for my uncle to take it out of the pan with the long willow stick,” she explained. Recently graduated in criminal justice, Thania is pursuing work as a victim’s advocate. Helping her aunt and uncle out is part of her way of staying connected to traditional Native practices. She speaks some Tewa, “but I’m hoping to learn more through talking and listening to my grandfather, and being around family.”

Her cousin, Robert Jojola, 19, was garnishing the Indian tacos while Mary Jane checked the loaves in the orno. “Whenever I smell that bread good feelings pop up,” he said. “Mostly from memories of being little and helping my caregiver. Like my aunt, she’d get orders from people in the community all the time, and we’d make the bread together.” He can understand Tewa and “speak it in spots,” and he participates in the pueblo dances. “But my uncle’s really involved in the dances.”

The Edaakie family of Isleta Pueblo has been bringing their oven bread-baking (seen here in the orno) and frybread-making demonstrations to the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology on the University of New Mexico’s Albuquerque campus every spring for 18 years. (Photo by Dinah Vargas)

“I’m one of the head singers,” Robert Edaakie explained, “and I make pottery decorated with wildlife and katsinas. I sell it at the pueblo on feast days, or when other pueblos have theirs.” About the many years at the Maxwell, he says: “We come home more tired than we used to. But it’s worth it to see our longtime customers; when they hear we’re going to be in town some of them drive distances to eat our food and buy Mary Jane’s bread. And, in all these years we’ve only been robbed once.”

To hear Robert tell it, even that had its comical side. “A customer approached the table to ask for a piece of foil, said he couldn’t finish his Indian taco and wanted to take the rest of it home.” When Robert turned his back for a split second to get the foil, the robber helped himself to $200 out of the money box. “But here’s the funny part,” Robert said. “He didn’t run off with our cash. He took another bite, put the foil over his plate and calmly left, taking the remainder of his taco with him!”

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