Johanna cooks for big crowds

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By Sandy Bond

Johanna Ducheneaux and Santana Vasquez

Johanna Ducheneaux  recalls growing up in Little Eagle along the Grand River when her grandparents, Jake and Laura Takes The Gun, would bundle her up in a sleigh pulled by two huge draft horses. Leaving their small farms and homes, residents of the small, close-knit community traveled to the little church where they would assemble in observance of Christmas.
The smell of fried chicken, jackrabbit soup, wild turnips, mashed potatoes and wojapi and other delightful treats wafted through the church meetinghouse.
“The women would cook all day long,” she said.
A baby doll was one of Johanna’s most memorable Christmas gifts.
“My grandmother, an excellent seamstress, would always make little dresses for her,” she said.
The oldest of six born to Isadore and Audrej Ducheneaux Takes The Gun, Johanna was born in a two-bedroom house 12 miles west of Little Eagle.  She was raised by her grandparents.
“I lived the country life,” she said. “We always had plenty of wild game to eat, and a big garden. We lived off the land, digging the wild turnips which had long roots; braiding them together and then hanging them to dry.”
They would supplement their meals with wild berries that her grandmother made into wojapi, a type of yummy fruity pudding that went with their fry and fresh homemade bread.
The family cooked and heated with a wood-burning stove early in her childhood, she said.
“Children had chores back then,” she said. “One of my chores was to wash clothes.”
She learned to manipulate a wringer washing machine. For those too young to remember, the machine agitated the clothes, she said, but lacked a spin cycle. Wet clothes were fed through two rollers to squeeze water out of them. The contraption was notorious for snapping at fingers and crushing buttons and zippers.  Then the clothes were hung on an outside clothesline.
“In the winter they froze solid,” she said. “But my grandfather strung a clothesline in the house so they could continue drying.”
Johanna wonders if kids today could survive the ordeals or what was considered normal at that time.
She attended Little Eagle Day School, better known as Sitting Bull School and then high school in McLaughlin through her sophomore year. Enrolled in the class of 1976, times were tough, she said.
“Back then we were taught respect,” she said.
Johanna left school to go to work.
Realizing the importance of an education, she returned to school and got her G.E.D. She has two children, a daughter Chantel, 20, and a son Waylon, 32, and two grandchildren, Hellena, 11, and Everet, 8.
She is one of the best cooks in the area, according to her aunt Irene Hagen. Johanna has been employed in food service for most of her life, including as a cook for the Head Start program in Little Eagle, advancing from food runner to hot buffet cook for the Prairie Knights Casino Restaurant and Café and later in the dietary department of the Beverly Health Care Center in Mobridge and Merkel’s Deli. She briefly moved to Sioux Falls to help care for her grandchildren. While employed at South Ridge Health Care, she was named Employee of the Month. Returning to Mobridge, she went to work at the Golden LivingCenter. At the Grand River Casino Hotel, she was named Employee of the Month.
She suffered a mini stroke and later a more severe one. Somewhat challenged, but emotionally stronger, she has persevered. Despite weaknesses in her hands, she has relearned to make her own freshly baked bread. Tweaking her tried and true recipes, her daughter cooks for her without salt. Sugar is a no-no, as well, as she has been diagnosed with diabetes.
She loves spoiling the children in her large extended family with freshly made pies. Her favorites are lemon meringue, raisin, and banana cream.
Deeply spiritual, she continues to attend the Assembly of Good Church in Wakpala, traveling to services with Pastor Eugene King.
Her many friends and relatives always remember to bring her an angel to add to her extensive collection, which makes her smile.
Johanna has been a guardian angel to her grandchildren Everet and Hellena, and helps others wherever she is needed.

JOHANNA DUCHENEAUX’S RECIPES

Dried Meat Soup (PaPa Soup)
Roast beef
Salt pork (cut and rinsed)
Potatoes (quartered)
Squash (sliced)
Wild turnip (diced or sliced)
Boil meat and turnips in a pan with enough water to cover. Cook until tender and then add potatoes, salt pork, hominy or dried corn, adding more meat if necessary. Continue to simmer until vegetables are soft. Serve with your favorite bread.

Fry Bread
1 pkg. yeast
2 1/2 lbs. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup dry milk (reconstituted with water)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Knead by hand and then let rise. Roll out with rolling pin and cut to shape. Fry in vegetable oil.

Wojapi (Pudding)
Can use any berries such as June berries or chokecherries, or wild plums, etc.
1 cup water
4 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
Wash the berries well. Boil fruit or berries in water in a medium kettle until the berries make their own juice. Thicken cornstarch with warm water. Continue simmering slowly as it thickens.

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