you women, strike out, gather wild onions, wild potatoes!
all you can! Gather all you can!
acorns, pound acorns, pound acorns!
some bread, make some bread!
we can eat, so we can eat, so we can eat...
acorn soup so that the people will eat it!...
talk about starvation, because we never have much!
is nothing to it."
Song of Chief Yanapayak, Miwok, from "The Way We Lived," edited
with commentary by Malcolm Margolin, copyright 1981.
of us may think of acorns as annoying, crunchy things that are hard
to walk on in your bare feet.
the acorn was, and still is, a central staple of the indigenous
peoples of California, revered by them, and, in a local vein, the
Ukiah Valley and its environs are obviously rich with oak groves
while the recollections of the Pomos figure prominently in literature
and ethnographic material dealing with oak trees, acorns and their
main by-products of acorn soup and acorn bread.
authors Bruce M. Pavlik, Pamela C. Muick, Sharon G. Johnson and
Marjorie Popper note in their book "Oaks of California" (copyright
1991) that tribes in the southern sections of the state used stone
mortars and pestles to pound acorns to make acorn meal (leaving
behind literally thousands of deep bedrock mortars wherever water
flowed) the Pomo practice of using strong baskets with a hole in
the bottom placed over a mortar stone still has left behind traces
-- if one looks hard enough -- of acorn processing in local areas
where rock and water is plentiful.
Margolin describes pounding acorns as "a woman's daily task -- tedious
and mundane" ("The Way We Lived," pg. 134), while Cahuilla Indians
felt that the tannins in acorns were a curse from the creator and
that, "because of the bitterness of the acorns, women would forever
have to spend much of their lives pounding the nuts with mortars
and leaching the meal with water" ("Oaks of California," pg. 99).
inspired to try cooking with acorns in the ancient manner may be
less enthusiastic when they learn it took a full day's work to prepare
a good amount of leached meal.
although the processing of acorns was essentially a domestic aspect
of indigenous life, in other ways the acorn and its role in enabling
survival made it perhaps one of the most central symbols for our
state's original peoples.
Ralganal Benson, a Pomo, includes the acorn in his description of
the creation of the world by the brothers Marumda and Kuksu.
the creation process, Marumda states: "According to this plan, people
are going to be. There are going to be people on this earth. On
this earth there will be plenty of food for the people! According
to this plan there will be many different kinds of food for the
people! Clover in plenty will grow, grain, acorns, nuts!" ("The
Way We Lived," pg. 128).
was acorn-gathering time, a time of celebration for people like
the Pomo. The acorn, which can contain up to 18 percent fat, 6 percent
protein and 68 percent carbohydrate (as well as high levels of vitamins
A and C and numerous amino acids), was a welcome sight hanging from
oak boughs at a time when most other herbs and seeds were becoming
scarce. ("Oaks of California," pg. 96).
Pomo Julia Parker explained that "When the acorn does come, there's
dances and songs. We take from the earth, we give back to the earth,
and we say thank you." ("Oaks of California," pg. 116).
said she was even told by Paiute/Miwok elders that, when acorns
arrive, one should "get out and pick and gather even if it's one
basketful, so the acorn spirit will know you're happy for the acorn,
and next year the acorn will come."
fact, native tribes were quite particular about acorn-gathering
areas, and there is even a historical record of an "acorn war" in
1830 between Pomos in the present Healdsburg area and nearby Wappo
Wappos had gathered acorns from a disputed area, and the Pomos stole
their acorn caches (elevated basket contraptions). The Wappo warriors
actually wiped out several Pomo villages, killing everyone. ("Oaks
of California," pg. 97).
even aside from such dramatic occurrences, Lucy Thompson, a Yurok,
explained that her people "were careful to preserve" oak timber
"as the oak tree furnished them with the staff of life.
the oak timber was owned by the well-to-do families and was divided
off by lines and boundaries as carefully as the whites have got
it surveyed today," she said. ("The Way We Lived," pg. 54).
Jones, a Nomlaki, said the chief of his tribe "owned one big oak
tree of a special kind. It was a singular tree called nuis.' There
was a village nearby, but (he) owned that tree and got all the acorns
from it...In those days the families owned (the trees). They own
trees in the mountains, too. They maintain border lines, but if
you are friendly with them they may give you a tree in time of need."
("The Way We Lived," pg. 51).
today acorn soup or bread is not typical fare for the masses, Malcolm
Margolin said this traditional, sacred food is being slowly revived.
"Much of Native California culture has been lost," he wrote, "yet
despite the savagery of the dominant society, Indian life is far
from extinguished. Even today, dances are still performed, new roundhouses
are being built, shamans still practice healing, baskets are being
made, and teachings are being passed on. It is not unusual to find
in the freezers of even the most acculturated -- along with the
frozen peas and ice cream, a bag of acorn meal, saved for special
remember that eating acorns without the proper, specific preparation
can make a person sick.