Coastal Cuisine


By the time that Europeans first visited California in the 16th Century there were roughly 300,000 indigenous people living in California dispersed broadly throughout the regon in small villages and speaking over 60 different languages. When the the Spanish began to chronicle their observations in 1769 they noted the locals enjoyed a wide-ranging diet that took full advantage of California’s extraordinary biodiversity.

Among the foods eaten by the Chumash, whose villages were around modern-day Santa Barbara, the Costanoans along the Central Coast, the Ohlone who had villages on either side of the Bay, and the Miwok, who lived both along the north coast and in the Sierra foothils were: acorns, pine nuts, cherries, berries, grapes, honey, nuts, sprouts, roots, grasshoppers, birds eggs, snails, trout, salmon, shellfish. deer, elk, bear, ground squirrels, woodrats and waterfowl.Each region had its particular prized dishes. Pomo people, who lived in the Russian River Valley area, loved to munch on roasted moth caterpillars and salty palm kelp.

For First Nation people seasonality was less an ethos than a basic necessity. Groups would camp in different locations each year in order to gather seasonal delights. The Miwok , for example, would collect clover in the spring, seeds in the summer, bulbs and mushrooms in the winter, and any number of flowers and fruits throughout the spring and summer.

If there was one dominant staple foodstuff common throughout what is now California it was acorns. Unlike todaym, Oaks ranged widely throughout California making acorns an exceedingly abundant and easy to harvest. They were, however, notoriously difficult to prepare. Untreated acorns contain powerful astringents and toxins that demand a complex pleaching process in order to make them safe to consume. Solutions involved burying the acorns in a sandy ditch along with grass, charcoal and ashes . Later, the acorns would be soaked in fresh water and pounded until sweet and edible. The Pomo had a still more sophisticated method, one that is coincidentally almost identical to the one employed by early Sardinians. They first ground the acorns into a fine meal, then mixed it with clay. After soaking and rinsing away the clay, they would mold the moistened meal into a flat cakes and bake them in an earthen oven.