Acorns

Among the diversity of seasonal foods eaten by indigenous people of Northern California, from the Chumash who lived near today’s Santa Barbara, to the Yurok who once roamed the hills in Humboldt County, were pine 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, the Sierra Miwok would forage for clover in the spring, seeds in the summer, mushrooms in the winter and many other seasonal fruits and bulbs throughout the year.

The Ohlone, who lived and foraged at the mouth of the San Francisco Bay and whose family relations reached across the bay into what is now Oakland, and southwards into the Santa Cruz Mountains, gathered the once abundant Abalone not just for its edible delicacy but also for its beautiful shell, which was prized for both ceremony and adornment.

If there was one staple food eaten throughout the entire west coast region by all the original Californians it would be acorns. Though oaks don’t grow in the higher elevations, the desert, or directly on the coastline, they once ranged widely throughout California and well into Oregon.

Though acorn-bearing Oaks were once common, preparing them for use as a food was a complicated and very time-consuming process. Untreated acorns contain all sorts of toxic astringents and acids so safe preparation required burying the nuts first in a sandy pit along with grass, charcoal, and ashes in order to allow the acids to leach out.

Interestingly, the groups of families now known collectively as Pomo, who once made their home along the Coast of Mendocino, prepared their acorns with a more sophisticated process than their peers, in fact, it was almost identical to that used by early Sardinians. First, they would mix the pounded acorn meal with clay in order to reduce the acid. Water was then added later to remove the clay and the remaining meal was then shaped into a flat cake and baked in a small earthen oven.