Food for Life in California (Photo Diary)

One of the mainstays of the diet for the California Indians was the acorn which was used in soup, porridge, and bread. Sixteen different species of oak provided the acorns. There are a number of steps involved in gathering and processing the acorns. They are gathered in September and October. Traditionally, the people gathered the acorns by climbing the tree and then beating off the nuts with a long slender pole.Harvesting would take place over a fairly short period of time, about two or three weeks.

The acorns which are collected have white bottoms and no insect holes. The acorns are then dried in their shells, a process which takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. During this time, the acorns are stirred to increase air circulation and encourage drying.

Once dry, the acorns are cracked to remove the nutmeat. This was traditionally done with a small, handheld stone pestle. The acorns are then ground or pounded into acorn flour. The flour is pounded as fine as possible. Once the acorns are ground into flour, they are then leached. Acorns contain tannic acid which is very bitter and which is poisonous in large amounts. The leaching process removes the tannic acid from the acorn flour. The leaching was traditionally done by digging a shallow sand pit near a creek. The flour was then carefully spread in the bottom of the pit and was continuously poured over it until it was sweet. It would take several hours of pouring to leach the flour.

 photo P1130295_zpsixol0geq.jpg

One of the displays in the Riverside Metropolitan Museum in Riverside, California, is entitled Food for Life. According to the display:

“Once food had been gathered, Southern California Native Americans used many tools to prepare meals for their families. Acorns were hulled and ground on stone mortars, leached to rid them of bitter tannic acid, and cooked in large baskets. Cooking baskets were filled with water and acorn flour, hot stones were lifted into the baskets to cook the acorn mixture, making wiiiwish. Today, wiiwish is still eaten by Southern California Native Americans.”

 photo P1130296_zpsb9dpkzr1.jpg Shown above is a Mountain Cahuilla cooking basket made about 1890.  photo P1130298_zpsholqdjtr.jpg Shown above is a hot stone lifter which was used to lift hot stones into the basket for cooking.  photo P1130299_zpsntimguca.jpg Shown above is a Luiseño basket hopper and stone mortar. The basket hopper, attached to the mortar with tar, would keep the acorns in the mortar while grinding them.

The Luiseño used six different species of acorn and their located their villages near water resources so that they could leach the acorns.

 photo P1130301_zpsiab4zkqt.jpg Shown above is a Mountain Cahuilla seed beater from the late nineteenth century.  photo P1130302_zpsixnapa57.jpg Shown above is a Serrano shell necklace made before 1925.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.