Here's something you don't see everyday. You are looking at a piece of bread that is 130 years old, give or take a couple of weeks. I have a small box of it - brittle, wafer thin, the greenish brown of old parchment - and know what it is because of an extraordinary letter that was preserved along with it in my great grandmother's desk explaining its origins. It does not explain why anyone thought to keep it and pass it on to future generations, but 92 years after the letter was written and the bread mailed to Elizabeth New Jersey from New Mexico Territory, both were given to me by my Great Aunt Margie who thought it might make an interesting item for show and tell, if we had such a thing in the 4th grade.
The letter was written by Major Daingerfield Parker (1832-1925) of the 3rd United States infantry, who married Amelia Nisbet (1832-1906), a much younger sister of my Gr-gr-great grandmother Catherine Ann Nisbet. It was written to her son, my Gr-great grandfather, William Nisbet Olmsted (1839-1898), Major Parker's nephew although not much younger in age. Daingerfield Parker had served in the regular army since April, 1861, and is mentioned in the autobiography of Buffalo Bill Cody from the great showman's days as an army scout. The letter itself is a wonderful bit of frontier ethnography, and I reproduce it here in full:
Fort Wingate, New Mexico Oct. 21, 1886
Dear Mr. Olmsted - Enclosed is a specimen of bread that is rather a curiosity in its way. It is from the Indian pueblo, a village of the Zuñi - 40 miles distant from here - This village is inhabited by the tribe of Indians described by Mr. Cushing some time since in the Century or Harper's Mag. They live in houses, piled as it where, one on top of another in terraces, using ladders to go from one story (or house) to another which (ladders) they pull up after them at night, thus 'closing up house.'
The bread is made of a green colored corn, finely ground, reduced to the consistency of cream, and then poured on a large flat stone which is heated, and the bread rolled out as fine as you see it & thus baked.
Amelia improves very slowly, but I think the improvement solid. She is, however, not able to bear the weight on the foot as yet. Love to all -
Very truly yours, Daingerfield Parker"
I have often wondered what a museum conservator would make of this "curiosity", and whether one could deduce which strain of "heirloom" green corn was used in its fabrication. How it lasted all these years is quite a marvel.