Stuffed Sugar Pumpkin

This hearty and healthy Hidatsa recipe is great for cold autumn evenings.

Preparation time: 30 minutesCooking time: 90 minutes
Serves: 8Difficulty: Moderate


  • A 2.2kg/5lb/medium sized sugar pumpkin
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoons of rendered fat or oil
  • 450g/1lb/2 cups of ground buffalo or venison
  • A wild onion, chopped
  • 170g/6oz/1 cup of sweetcorn
  • 250g/9oz/1 cup of kidney or pinto beans
  • 300g/11oz/1 cup of cooked wild rice
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons of chopped sage (or 1 teaspoon of dried sage)
  • ½ teaspoon of black pepper

Make it vegan: replace the buffalo with plant based mince, chopped mushrooms or extra beans, and replace the eggs with 3/4 cup of puréed silken tofu.

Special Equipment

  • A sharp knife
  • A large saucepan
  • A large baking dish


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Use a sharp knife to cut the top off the pumpkin, then remove the strings and seeds. Prick the pumpkin cavity with a fork before rubbing it with the mustard and half of the salt.
  3. Place a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Pour in the oil and allow it to heat up for a few minutes before adding the meat and onion. Sauté both for a few minutes until they’re nicely browned, then stir in the corn and beans and cook for a further minute.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir the wild rice, eggs, sage, pepper and remaining salt into the meat. Then pour the meat mixture into the pumpkin and replace the lid.
  5. Place the pumpkin in a baking pan and pour in half an inch of water. Bake the pumpkin for about an hour and a half, or until it’s tender. Rotate it once or twice while it’s cooking so it doesn’t burn on one side, and if the water begins to evaporate, add more water to the pan.
  6. Remove the pan from the oven and, using oven gloves, place the pumpkin on a serving dish. Cut it into wedges. Serve each person a wedge with some stuffing.
  7. Bon Appetit!


  • Use a sugar or pie pumpkin for this recipe- not a decorative Halloween pumpkin, which won’t taste as good.
  • After you remove the pumpkin seeds, you don’t have to throw them away! Wash them before roasting them with paprika, salt and pepper to make a healthy, tasty snack.


Home: North Dakota

Other Native American dishes with squash: Choctaw Stew (Choctaw), Ogwissimanabo (Tuscarora), Three Sisters Stew


Pumpkins originated in Central America over 7,500 years ago. These ancient pumpkins were small, hard and bitter- with little resemblance to the large, sweet pumpkins we eat today- but they were easy to store for winter, so were widely cultivated.

Modern Squash Varieties
Californiacondor, Squashes, 2006 [Accessed 09/10/2020] (

Different Native American groups from across the Americas favoured different parts of the pumpkin. Many groups from what would today be parts of Mexico and the southern U.S. enjoyed pumpkin seeds, which were sometimes believed to give the consumer energy and endurance. The Cocopa tribe of modern Arizona believed the seeds gave them protection against the cold, while the O’odham ground them down to make bread flour.

Other southern groups preferred the flesh of the pumpkin. The Diné fried it with mutton and the Taos Pueblo combined it with corn and onion to make Succotash. Variations of mashed, boiled and roasted pumpkin were popular across the continent, and some groups would also dry leftover pumpkin flesh before weaving strips of it to make mats.

Stuffed Sugar Pumpkin is a Hidatsa recipe. The Hidatsa are an indigenous group from the Knife River in modern day North Dakota, where they have lived since at least the 13th century. Over the centuries the Hidatsa became skillful farmers. They opted to grow crops on the fertile lands around the river, which they scattered with ashes from cleared brush to provide the soil with extra nutrients.

The Knife River, North Dakota
Chris Light, Stantan North Dakota Knife River Village south to the village, 2001 [accessed 09/10/2020] (

Buffalo Bird Woman (Maaxiiriwia, also known as Waheenee), a Hidatsa farmer, described this practice in Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden: Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians, a doctoral dissertation and book by Gilbert Wilson published in the early 20th century. Hidatsa farmers like Buffalo Bird Woman also used the ‘Three Sisters’ planting method, whereby squash, beans and corn were planted together with similar crops like tobacco and sunflowers. Using this companion planting method allowed the Hidatsa to take advantage of the crops’ natural tendencies and growing relationships. By perfecting such agricultural methods the Hidatsa successfully farmed enough vegetables that they were not only able to feed themselves but trade their produce with neighbouring villages.

This Hidatsa Stuffed Sugar Pumpkin recipe is based on a recipe from Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking, by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs- but I have added corn and beans, the other ‘Three Sisters’ vegetables, to complement the pumpkin.

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