We’ve heard the story of the first Thanksgiving, when the pilgrims and Native Americans sat down together to celebrate the first harvest in the new world.
One item that many historians believe was very likely a part of that meal, in some variation, is still being enjoyed on the East End to this day: Samp.
Samp is made from corn, a staple of most Native American diets. It’s a form of hominy grits, but with larger kernals. The name comes from the Narragansett word nasaump, which means hominy. The Shinnecock and Wampanoag tribes also ate samp, the most common form of preparation involved the soaking of the hominy in a mix of water and ashes, to remove the hull, then slow cooking it into a soft porridge.
In an excerpt from the book, The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island from Earliest Times to 1700 by John A. Strong, he described how the native people prepared it:
“The women boiled it until a thick porridge called sappaen was formed. Isaack de Rasieres said that the sappaen was good eating, even better with Dutch butter, and easily digested. Another Dutch observer, Adriaen van der Donck, noted that sappaen was a basic part of the Indian’s daily diet: ‘It is the common food of all; young and old eat it.’ ”
The English shortened nasaump to ‘samp’ and eventually Long Island settlers adopted it as part of their regular diet.
While not eaten as widely today as in the past, samp still holds a special place in the memories of older East Enders, both on and off the reservation.
For Josephine Smith, Cultural Research Director for the Shinnecock Nation, it was a dish she grew up on.
“It is an acquired taste,” she said. “When I was a kid I didn’t like samp as much as I liked succotash, but as I got older I liked it and now I eat it all the time.”
Smith has passed the meal on to her children and strives to make sure aspects of Shinnecock culture, like their foods, are not forgotten.
“Talking with our elders, I was always told that it was a staple food,” Smith said. “It was one of the foods that’s been passed down and always eaten.”
For Victor Finalborgo, owner of Catena’s Market in Southampton, which has sold samp for decades, the dish is a big part of his family history.
“We grew up on it,” he said. “My parents and my grandparents sold it, so that goes back to the 1920s and 1930s.”
Mr. Finalborgo still sells samp in his store during the fall and winter months and he still runs out, especially this time of year.
“It’s still popular,” he said. “Aside from the reservation, there are pockets of neighborhoods in East Hampton and the original families in Southampton that still buy it.”
Mr. Finalborgo is well versed in samp’s history, differentiating the simple Shinnecock recipe of cooked corn and beans with how East Enders adapted it.
“When the Shinnecock passed the recipes on to Southampton residents, they started using domestic animals, like adding ham to the recipe,” he said.
Today samp can be prepared many different ways, but the three most popular ways remain: (1) samp cooked with milk and butter, (2) with beans, or (3) with ham or salt pork.
“Some people like it with milk ,” Ms. Smith said. “Especially the old timers like my mom, who’s passed on now.”
Catena’s loyal clientele are coming in for their samp now to take it with them for the holiday.
“People ship it to relatives in Florida, who had it when they were young and a lot are coming in now to take it with them to Florida,” Mr. Finalborgo said.
Mr. Finalborgo recounted a story his father told him, that showed just how regional samp had become.
One year when his father put out their sign that read, ‘We Have Samp’, a couple from out of town walked into the shop. Mr. Finalborgo’s father overheard the woman say to her husband, ‘You know you’re in the country when they can’t even spell the word Stamp.’ Instead of getting angry, his father turned to them, smiling, and said, ‘We know you’re not from around here if you haven’t heard of Samp.’