Among the diversity of seasonal foods eaten by indigenous people living in what is now Northern California, from the Chumash who lived near today’s Santa Barbara, to the Yurok up 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, Sierra Miwok people 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, whose extended families once foraged at the mouth of the San Francisco Bay, across the bay in what is now Oakland, and south into Santa Cruz Mountains for tens of millenia gathered the abundant Abalone which they cherished for sustenance, ritual, and adornment.
If there was one staple food eaten throughout the entire region by all the original Californians it was acorns. Though oaks never grew in the higher elevations, the desert, or directly on the coastline, they did once range broadly throughout the rest of California and well into Oregon.
For these original families it was likely never more than a few day’s walk to find some acorn-bearing trees. Preparing them for use as a food however was a far more complicated and time-consuming process. Untreated acorns contain all sorts of astringents and acids that can be quite toxic. Safe preparation involved burying the nuts in a sandy place with grass, charcoal, and ashes in order to allow the acids to be leached-out.
The groups of families we now call collectively, Pomo, who once lived and loved along the Coast of Mendocino, prepared their acorns with a more sophisticated process, one that is almost identical to that used by early Sardinians. They first mixed the pounded acorn meal with clay in order to reduce the acid. Later water was added to remove the clay and the remaining sweet meal was shaped into a flat cake, and baked in a small 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