Ark of Taste
Piki bread is a significant food both culturally and nutritionally to the Hopi people as well as New Mexico Pueblo peoples. The technique used to make the bread is difficult to master and has been passed down from mothers to daughters for generations. Although it is traditionally used in ceremonies, Piki bread is extremely nutritious, making it a staple food in the diets of the communities where it originated.
To make the bread, women finely grind blue cornwhich is grown and harvested in the communityand blend it with the burnt ash of juniper berries. Nixtamilization, which occurs when the ash is mixed with the corn, increases the availability of nutrients in the corn. The corn meal is then blended with water to produce a light batter that the women spread on a hot, well-seasoned stone with their bare hands. Watermelon or sunflower seeds may be used for oil. They are placed on the stone while it heats and when they pop, the stone is warm enough to make the bread. Horse fat and deer brain fat are also traditional ways to lubricate the stone. The result of this process is a delicate, crispy wafer-thin bread that is often used to mop up moist, saucy meals like corn soup and mutton stew. The bread is a beautiful grey, green color with a blue corn flavor that is intensely earthy, smoky and a little sweet.
The Piki bread-making tradition is strongly connected to family, with mothers teaching their daughters the technique. The stone on which the bread is baked is also passed down for generations. Often, young women must demonstrate that they can make it to prove their worth as brides. Today, production of the bread is increasingly rare. Piki bread is made in the homes of individual families who have a piki house and a baking stone. The bread is sold at the Hopi Cultural Center on Second Mesa, at community celebrations or events, and given to participants at festivals and dances.