Among thne diversity of seasonal foods eaten by the people of the First Nations living what is now Northern California, from the Chumash who lived near what is now Santa Barbara to the Yurok in Humboldt county were: pne nuts, cherries, berries, grapes, honey, sprouts, roots, eggs, snails, trout, salmon, shellfish, deer, elk, bear, and a variety of small game including squirrels, and waterfowl. In the foothills to the east the Sierra Miwok would forage for clover in the spring, seeds in the summer, mushrooms in the winter and many other seasonal fruits, bulbs and seeds throughout the year.
The Ohlone, whose culinary traditions are connected to a 10,000 year old history, gathered the abundant Abalone which they cherished as a source of sustenance, ritual, and personal adornment.
If there was one staple food eaten throughout the entire region it was acorns. Though oaks didn’t grow in the higher elevations, the desert, or directly on the coastline, they did range throughout the rest of California and well into Oregon.
It was likely no more than a few day’s walk to find some acorn-bearing trees, but preparing those acorns was a complicated and time-consuming process. Untreated acorns contain astringents and acids that can be toxic so preparation required burying the nuts in a sandy place with grass, charcoal, and ashes, and allowing the acids to be leached-out before they were safe to eat.
The Pomo, who once lived near the Coast in Mendocino, had a more sophisticated process that was in fact almost identical to the one used by early Sardinians. They first mixed the pounded acorn meal with clay in order to reduce the acid. Then, water was added to remove the clay and the remaining moistened meal was shaped into a flat cake, and baked in an earthen oven.
When people don’t use plants they get scarce. You must use them so they come up again. All plants are like that. If they are not gathered from, or talked to, or cared about they’ll die.
-Mabel McKay, Pomo Elder