By Gary Nabhan, Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems and founder of “Renewing America’s Food Traditions”

“Makah spoken history tells the story of ancient times when the Makah People lived in a world that revolved around the sea and land. Yet it never lets one forget the great cultural changes that brought the tribe to where it is today, a sovereign nation in its traditional homeland. Makah tribal members live both on and off the reservation and throughout the world practicing an intertwined contemporary and native culture. The Makah, both past and present, have demonstrated their ability to adapt, survive and flourish.”

Native Peoples of the Olympic Peninsula, by the Olympic Peninsula Intertribal Advisory Committee

Located in the most northwesterly point of the lower 48 states, on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, the Makah Nation is estimated to be more than 3,500 years old. Much of their known history comes from oral traditions passed down through the generations. Like many First Nation and indigenous peoples, they used nearly all of what they took from the land and sea. Their feasts included various fish and marine mammals, elk, deer, berries and a variety of plants.

According to tribal lore, one staple of the Makah diet for the last 200 years has been the Ozette Potato – named after one of their five villages located around Neah Bay.

Unlike most potatoes, the Makah Ozette variety came directly from South America to Neah Bay, where Spaniards were attempting to stake out territory along the northern Pacific coast in the late 1700s. When they established a fort at Neah Bay in the spring of 1791, they planted a garden that surely included potatoes they had brought directly from South America via Mexico.

The spuds the Spanish had planted in their summer garden persisted and soon went feral after the fort was abandoned that winter. Legend has it that the Makah Ozette potato was discovered and adopted by women of the Makah Nation when they were out foraging in 1792. Unbeknownst to anyone outside of their culture, for the next two centuries Makah women took on the role of serving as the sole stewards of their newly found tuber crop, secretly cultivating the potato in modest gardens on the rainforest edge.

The Makah Ozette has remained on the Olympic Peninsula because the Makah people cherish its distinctive flavor. In doing so, the Makah have protected a rare example of a truly local potato. The knobby fingerling potato with its rich, creamy texture may be unusual to most of us, but it is an example of the incredible variety of shapes, colors and tastes found in South American potatoes.

Dungeness Crab Hash

with Makah Ozette Potatoes

8 Makah Ozette potatoes

zest of one lemon

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 leek bulb, the white parts only, finely chopped

2 tablespoons minced white onion

2 tablespoons minced Anaheim pepper

12 oz (1 1/2 cups) Dungeness crab meat

1 tablespoons chopped fresh dill weed

1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Place the potatoes on the oven rack and bake them for 30 to 40 minutes, until they are fork tender. Remove them from the oven to cool, then peel and grate them into a bowl. Set aside.

Next, place the lemon zest in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Drain and repeat the process twice, then rinsed the zest in cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Mince, then set aside.

In a large non-stick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add the olive oil and then the grated potatoes, spreading them out evenly and sautéing them for 5 to 7 minutes without mixing or flipping. Spread the leek, onion, and pepper out on top of the grated potatoes and cook for 5 minutes more or until the bottom is golden brown.
Spread the crabmeat atop this mix and sprinkle with the minced zest and dill, salt, and pepper. Turn the entire hash cake over with a spatula and cook for 7 more minutes or until the hash cake is evenly heated and a crisp, golden hue. Serve on four plates with poached eggs mounted onto the hash cake slices.