By Lisa Pemberton, Puyallup Tribal News Editor
Puyallup Tribal Member Dorothy Earl has been making fry bread for more than 40 years.
She estimates she’s probably made about 200,000 pieces of fry bread – for youth dinners, funerals, the 2018 Canoe Journey and other special events over the years. Earl, who is the cook at the Little Wild Wolves Youth Center and known to many as “Auntie Dot,” uses a baking powder fry bread recipe that was passed down to her by her great-auntie on her mom’s side of the family.
“It originated in Yakima, where I grew up,” Earl said.
Earl recently demonstrated how to make her fry bread in a video for the Youth Center’s Facebook page. She said she wanted to share her family’s recipe and time-proven tips so that future generations can enjoy the delicious and fun tradition of Indian fry bread.
Fry bread recipes are often kept top-secret. Sometimes the recipes aren’t even written down.
“A lot of people just throw it together and never measure,” Earl said. “I couldn’t handle that.”
Through trial and error, Earl has perfected her recipe, which can easily be doubled, tripled – or in the case of the recent Youth Center dinner, multiplied by eight.
For every cup of flour, it takes a teaspoon of baking powder, a quarter teaspoon of salt and a half tablespoon of sugar. “It’s consistent,” Earl said. “You know how it’s going to turn out every time.”
Earl said her auntie used to say, “Just remember what the ingredients stand for.”
“She’d say the sugar was to brown it,” Earl said. “The salt was to balance out the flavor, the nonfat milk makes it fluffy.”
She said a lot of people think fry bread is too difficult to make so they don’t even try it. Her advice for success: Don’t give up. If it’s too sticky, add some flour. If it’s too dry, add a little oil. Also, keep it traditional and create it with your hands, not a dough mixer.
“It’s not supposed to be handled a lot,” Earl said. “Experience is your best teacher, so don’t give up.”
On a recent evening, in the Youth Center kitchen, Earl quickly patted dough and placed it into hot oil. There was a peaceful cadence to her work. Her eyes hinted of a warm smile under the blue disposable face mask she wore as a COVID-19 precaution.
What does she think about when she’s making fry bread?
“Seeing the smiles upon people’s faces when they’re eating it,” Earl said. “Trying to put love into it. I guess that’s my goal – to see people enjoy my cooking.”
On this particular night, the fluffy golden fry bread was being served up with hamburger soup during the Youth Center’s drive-thru dinner.
“I am happy that Dorothy shared the family recipe,” said Youth Director Lisa Earl, who is also Earl’s niece. “Now it will continue to put smiles on more little faces.”
Auntie Dot’s Famous Fry Bread (makes 8 servings)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ cup powdered nonfat milk
2 quarts hot water
1 quart canola or vegetable oil (or a mixture of both types)
Mix powdered milk and hot water, and set aside.
Combine remaining dry ingredients. Add milk mixture.
Mix by hand until sticky. Add 2-3 tablespoons of oil to the edges and top of the dough, and let rise for 15 to 20 minutes. Heat oil to 380 degrees (or medium high on the stovetop).
Shape dough into balls about 3 inches in diameter. If the dough is too sticky, add some flour to it. Flatten into patties about a half inch thick, and make a small hole in the center. Drop into a quart of hot Canola or vegetable oil. Fry until golden brown, flipping halfway through. Transfer onto a paper towel lined plate to drain.
For loaded Indian tacos: Serve with chili, taco meat, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, onion, salsa and sour cream.
Optional toppings: Margarine, butter, jam or honey.