member of the American Indian tribe native to the Tehachapi area
gave a cooking demonstration last week, showing how her people utilized
the wildflower they call Koovoos, which flower guides today refer
to as spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum).
Janice Williams, a Nuwa (Kawaiisu) tribal
member, and I teach classes on Nuwa language, basketry and other
cultural practices. Janice is known for her delicious cooking, especially
her homemade tortillas, so she demonstrated her techniques last
week in order to incorporate koovoos, which is flowering now.
Janice and her family, including parents
Ed and Clara Williams and her five siblings, were raised on the
Mendiburo Ranch in the area now known as Mountain Meadows. The homestead
was off the grid and cooking was done on a wood stove, while kerosene
lamps provided lighting.
Janice's parents were among the transitional
Kawaiisu, people who spoke both English and Nuwa and lived in a
contemporary way, but continued to practice traditional skills,
and supplemented their diet with venison, rabbit, acorn, pine nuts,
koovoos and other traditional foods.
Janice learned to make tortillas and cook
them on the wood stove when she was only 7 years old.
Obviously the pre-contact Kawaiisu didn't
make tortillas, but they learned the technique in the 1800s from
Spanish or Mexican people and adapted it to their own culture.
"We made fresh tortillas most days,"
Janice explains. "Mama taught us girls so she wouldn't
have to be the only one making them. With a big family like ours,
fresh homemade tortillas went fast! It took me a while to learn
to make them round. Daddy used to tease me about the shape of my
tortillas, saying they looked like Texas or Nevada."
At last week's class at Phil Wyman's
Grand Oaks Ranch on Jeffrey Road, Janice showed how she took La
Pina flour and mixed it in a bowl with a small amount of baking
powder and salt, then added shortening and kneaded it with hot water.
"You need to use hot water or the tortillas end up tough and
doughy, and if you use too much baking powder, the tortillas aren't
flat, they're thick like pita bread," she cautioned.
Janice then made balls of dough about
the size of a chicken egg and flattened them into tortillas, demonstrating
both the older way of using just your hands to pat them out and
stretch them, and also the newer way of a rolling pin on a hard
They were then placed on a very hot flat
griddle a tortilla pan Janice has had for nearly 40 year
since she first married and turned back and forth a couple
of times to cook both sides, a process that only took about 20 or
30 seconds between each flip.
While Janice's tortilla pile grew,
freshly picked koovoos were sorted, washed and then brought to a
boil for a few minutes. The water was then drained and the koovoos
was mixed with some bacon and a little bacon grease that had been
Then it was time to eat, a meal that consisted
of the tortillas, koovoos, pinto beans and ham hocks that Janice
had prepared the night before, and an eight-hour beef roast that
Del Troy brought.
Traditionally the Indian people ate with
only their fingers, using the tortillas as a kind of table utensil
to scoop up the beans. The combination of flavors is hearty and
delicious ... mmmmm.
I can imagine how happy the Williams family
would be at dinner time in their little house in the hills above
town during koovoos season, when a steaming pot of koovoos was served
with beans, homemade tortillas and maybe some venison their dad
had brought home. We'll be having more demonstrations of Indian
cooking there's a Go Native Day being planned now for
September at Mano Lujan's Red House BBQ that will offer the
public a chance to sample a variety of American Indian cooking.
I'll keep ya posted.
Have a good week