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Cattail cookin’: Class learns to make cattail cakes at Leech Lake Tribal College

Jane Carlstrom laughs as she helps cut up cattail griddle cakes during a workshop on Tuesday at Leech Lake Tribal College. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 3
The cattail griddle cakes cook in the fire during a workshop Tuesday at Leech Lake Tribal College. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 3
A cattail is pulled apart at the beginning of the workshop at Leech Lake Tribal College on Tuesday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

LEECH LAKE -- The process of cooking cattail cakes does not look appetizing.

To mix the batter, a chef must pull apart the flower head to collect the dandelion-like fluff, then mix it with either flour or cattail root starch, vinegar and ashes -- yes, ashes -- from a hardwood like maple.

But the recipe’s final product -- once cooked in a little oil over a fire, or even directly on hot coals -- is delicious, especially paired with maple syrup, berries or jam. The three small griddle cakes cooked during a Leech Lake Tribal College “Setting the Table” class Tuesday were quickly eaten by the nine attendees.

“When you’re on the trail, boy I tell you, this will keep you going,” said Matt Mattson, who shared his recipes and know-how with the group.

Tuesday’s class is part of a LLTC series called “Setting the Table.” The classes are open to the public and teach attendees how to cook a variety of meals that “revolve around using what the Earth provides for us.”

Esther Humphrey, Leech Lake Tribal College’s extension coordinator, said it’s important to teach the community to use what nature provides.

“It’s something people should share, but not a whole lot of people want to,” Humphrey said. “A lot of people are hoarding information like that nowadays and they’re not willing to give that away.”

Cattail griddle cakes can be cooked using flour, or can be made by harvesting pollen and starch from another part of the plant. Ashes are used as a leavening agent similar to yeast, and vinegar is included because it causes a chemical reaction that makes the dough rise. The seeds in the cattail’s “fluff” contain protein and vitamins -- the fluff itself adds starch and carbohydrates.

Community member Yvonne Hardy attended the class because her father used to eat cattails and she wanted to learn more uses for the plants.

“I like to learn anything natural,” said Hardy, who works with Leech Lake’s youth program and hopes to teach the recipe to the children involved. “If I can get it down myself, I can show them.”

Grace Pastoor

Grace Pastoor covers crime, courts and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. Contact her at (218) 333-9796 or

(218) 333-9796