Osafke, Safke

osafke, safkeosafke, safke
sofke/sofkee/sofkey/sofky/sofki

George Washington Grayson, 1885

This may be well termed the National dish of the Muscogees, because all make it and is fond of it and is almost always kept in the house.

It is made by pounding a very flinty kind of corn grown for the purpose, and running it through a riddle made of split cane or reed. By this, and a winnowing process, the outer coating of the broken grains is removed. This is then cooked in quantities of three or four gallons; the cooking consisting simply of slowly boiling the grains in a plentiful supply of water, adding occasionally a little lye dripped from strong wood ashes. When done the cooking is so gauged as that the whole consists of about two-thirds soup and one-third hominy.

There being no salt or seasoning of any kind, it is at first rather insipid to one who is not accustomed to it, but almost all persons soon learn to become fond of it. Most Indians prefer it when partly fermented.

Lilah D. Lindsey, 1902

Two gallons hot water, one quart of grits, home pounded is best, boil until grits begin to crack open. Keep kettle full of boiling water, or replenish as it boils away. When grits are tender add lye made from wood ashes, about one teacup, if of ordinary strength. Let it boil slowly for one hour, or until grits are perfectly done, then pour off in crock or jar. Add one gallon of cold water to keep the grits from burning.

This is used for a drink at table or elsewhere. When fresh it is also good with sweet milk. For a cool refreshing drink in sickness, especially with fever, there is no equal.

Charles Gibson, 1918

Shell good, clean and dried flint corn from the cob, enough to have a peck or more of the shelled grain to prepare sofky for several meals. Cover the shelled corn with cool water, and soak over night.

Pound the soaked corn, or a portion, lightly in a wooden mortar enough to break the grains in half. Place the pounded corn in a fanner, and clean out the hulls. Put the clean, broken grain into a large vessel, cover with water and boil until thoroughly done. Add water if necessary from time to time to keep the hominy in a loose fluid. When it is cooked thoroughly, add ash lye solution in the proportion of a cupful to a gallon of the boiling hominy, stirring it regularly for it will scorch easily. Boil the hominy with the ash-lye solution for at least another half hour, then pour it into a stone jar to keep and serve.

“As long as the Indian can eat and drink osafke, he will not go dead.”

Muskogee and Northeastern Oklahoma, 1922

Sofki has been one of the favorite dishes of food for the In­dians, especially among the Creeks.

It is made of corn, pounded into coarse meal, treated with lye and mixed with water. The wet meal is boiled and lye is dripped into it through a sieve filled with wet wood ashes. When the mixture becomes a thick mush, it is removed from the fire and allowed to cool, sometimes ground nuts are added to the mixture.

Sofki is still made and relished by many Indian families.

James H. Hill, ca. 1936-40

They shelled flint corn, put it in cold water, set it aside.

Then removed the corn, put it in a mortar, pounded it lightly, and peeling off the corn-skins, they called it vce aktonke [“pulverized corn”] and sifted off the pounded corn husks, filled a big water kettle called a lehayv-rakko with water, and when it got hot, they put the vce aktonke in, lit a fire under it, not a very big fire, and it slowly simmered, and after quite a while, they . . . poured [the lye] into the corn boiling in water, and when the vce aktonke is cooked with lots of juice, they poured it in a sofkee jar.

Beulah Simms, 1970

Place about three pounds flint or white corn in a bucket of water and let the mixture stand until the kernels are soft.

Place the corn, while still wet, in a mortar (keco) and pound with a pestle (kecvpe) until the grains of corn are in small kernels. Separate the finer grains (vce enfolotkv) from the larger grains (safke nērkv). You now have your corn ready to be boiled into safke. (Safke nērkv may now be purchased in most all supermarkets and may be called for as hominy grits or safke grits.)

Place the safke nērkv in a large kettle of water, about three gallons of water to three pounds of corn, and place the kettle over a low hot fire. It is better if cooked in an iron kettle over a wood fire out-of-doors. When the mixture comes to a hard boil, add kvpe-cvfke, a drop at a time until the corn turns a slight yellow. Continue to boil, stirring often so that the mixture will not burn, until the liquid thickens and the corn is soft.

Safke may be served while still hot, however, some prefer it cold. It is best served with meat dishes. Safke may also be served with cream and sugar. When permitted to set a few days, especially in warm weather, it becomes fermented and then it is known as safke toksē and is preferred by some Creek Indians to fresh safke. Safke toksē is not intoxicating, as some people believe.

American Indian Recipes, 1970

Need two gallons of flint or white corn. This will make about five gallons of sour corn. To every mortar full of corn add one or two cups of hot water and handful of strong ashes or soda and work with pestle until it is skinned or peeled and work all of the two gallons. Sift corn through pan which has holes made by number twenty nails. After it is sifted put back in mortar and crack with pestle and keep sifting til all is finished and all the skin and meal is clean. Place black pot over fire with about five buckets of clean water and start cooking unless you prefer to soak over night and then cook.

After the corn is cooked then put the ash water in and cook down til all four or five quarts of liquid is gone and corn turns light brown.

When finished, put corn in five gallon crock jar and cover with clean wet cloth and lid, keep from air and place in a warm corner to turn sour overnight. To turn sour faster put a buffalo horn (made into a spoon) at the bottom of the jar.

Cookbook of the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma, 1976

Recipe for small families:  Clean and wash one quart sofky corn. Put corn in large cooking pot, porcelain or large cast iron pot. Cook about three hours and add one-half cup of ash lye, gradually, and stirring corn all the while. Continue cooking until corn is very tender.

Hattie Beaver, 1991

Among many American tribes, maize (vce) has always been a principal food. Years before explorers came to this country, American Indians were planting and cultivating maize.

There are many ways Creek and Seminole women prepare corn for food. It is used for breads, vegetables, main dishes (cooked with meats), desserts, and drinks. A favorite drink and food among the Creek and Seminole down through the ages has been sofke. Sofke is made from flint or field corn.

In preparing corn for sofke, they shelled dry corn from the cob. The corn was soaked in water with drip lye until hulls could be removed. The hulls were removed and the corn washed several times. The placed the corn in a wooden mortar (keco) and pounded it with a pestle (kecvpe) until the corn was pounded into small pieces. After the corn was pounded, the grit was removed by sifting in a sofke sifter.

While they were pounding the corn, they had ready a big pot (le-ocv) of hot water. They placed the prepared corn in the hot water and cooked it until tender. After the sofke was done, a small amount of drip lye was added—just enough to give a light tan color to sofke.

Seasoning was not added to sofke, but many of the younger generation today prefer to drink it with sugar.

Today, many supermarkets carry prepared sofke grits or hominy grits, thus making it easier for the working woman to continue to serve sofke to this generation.

Native American Recipes, 1996

Put three quarts hominy corn or grits into five gallons water. Add one pint ash lye. Cook for three hours or until the corn is tender.

May be served warm or cold. For sour sofkey let it stand for a day or two.

Stephen Carson, 2006

Boil four gallons water. Put four cups dry corn in the boiling water and let cook for a few hours. Put one-quarter cup of sofkee lye in pot and let cook for one hour.

Bertha Tilkens, 2009

To make sofke using today’s modern way of cooking: Fill a four-quart crock-pot about three-quarters full of water. Add two and one-half cups of dry hominy or white corn. Cook for two and one-half hours, then add the ash drippings until the flavor is right and the mixture looks a little cloudy. Cook until the corn is soft, then serve either hot or cold.

Acee Blue Eagle

“Creek Vocabulary and Verb Paradigms with Occasional Ethnographic Notes” by George Washington Grayson, Bureau of American Ethnology manuscript 568a (Eufaula, I.T., 1885), quoted in A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee: With Notes on the Florida and Oklahoma Seminole Dialects of Creek by Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000).

“Sofki” by John D. Benedict, in Muskogee and Northeastern Oklahoma (Chicago, IL: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922).

“Sof-ke” by Hattie Beaver, in Four Circles of Learning (Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma State Department of Education, 1991).

Other Sources

3 thoughts on “Osafke, Safke

  1. I haven’t commented yet but I enjoy reading your articles. Like most folks who grew up in the south I love grits and hominy, and homestyle ones are sometimes a little hard to come by here in New England, and after reading this I want to get some good grits to make. But I have never eaten them this way; maybe some day I will have the opportunity to try it. Thank you for sharing your stories and ways with us.

  2. I also love these insightful accounts of native life. Hominy and grits are good starchy foods. My daddy had an army ‘buddy’ in 1942 Hawaii who was a Melanesian Hawaiian. I know from this that Poi may be similar in that its taste is rather insipid but nourishing. Definitely an acquired taste. One other account was that the 6 foot 3 inch guy could climb a coconut tree like a squirrel and pry off the husk with only a piece of bamboo drilled into the sand. Green coconuts may have more liquid or a puddy like ‘meat’. Some of the liquid was used to make a liquor.

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