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Photograph by H. W. Henshaw, from C. Hart Merriam
INDIAN WOMAN POUNDING ACORNS AT AGUA CALIENTA, IN WARNER VALLEY, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Note the elevated rim of partly ground acorn meats surrounding the mortar hole
hot mush in a special basket and plunging it (turning it out of the basket) into a cold, running stream.
The action of the cold water, curiously enough, causes the loaves to contract and harden. They are then placed on rocks to drain, and in the course of a few days become dry and hard and may be carried for weeks, until consumed.
The total quantity of acorn mush and bread made for this ceremony must have exceeded a ton in weight.
In some parts of California the Indians husk the acorns as soon as ripe, without waiting for them to dry. The shells, being at that time somewhat flexible, cannot be easily cracked with the cracking stone, but are torn open with the teeth.
longing to the Po-lik-lah or lower Klamath tribe, writes that in her country when the acorns ripen, in late October and in November, the families establish acorn camps in favorite localities, gathering and bringing in the nuts in the large burden baskets. In the evening, when the evening meal is finished, all the family-men, women, and children-engage in removing the hulls with their teeth, an occupation at which they are very expert. The hulled green acorns are put into large, flattish circular receptacles of basket work, which are placed on top of a high frame over the fire in the house, so that the heat in rising dries them.
All acorns are not equally desirable from the food standpoint. Of the edible qualities of the numerous eastern species I have no personal knowledge, though it is well known that acorns of several species were eaten by various eastern tribes from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
It is known that the Algonkin tribes
of our Eastern States used acorns for bread and for oil, and mixed boiled acorns with their fish and meat.
The Iroquois of the State of New York, according to F. W. Waugh, commonly made use of acorns for food, apparently favoring the sweet kinds, as those of the white and chestnut oaks, but in times of necessity resorted to the bitter acorns of the black and red species.
Waugh states further that nut meats (presumably including acorns) were pounded, boiled slowly in water, and the oil skimmed off into a bowl; the oil was boiled again and seasoned with salt, to be used with bread, potatoes, pumpkins, squashes, and other foods, and nut oil was often added to mush. The meats left after skimming off the oil were seasoned and mixed with mashed potatoes, and nut meats were crushed and added to hominy and corn soup to make it rich.
These ancient grinding mills in hard granite rock are common on the middle and lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada of California and some of them have as many as 20 or 30 mortar holes. The pestles held in both hands; the modus operandi is illustrated on pages 131 are large and heavy with smoothly rounded striking ends and are and 132. When pounding the acorns, several women usually work together, sitting at neighboring holes and singing in rhythm with the strokes of the pestles.
And the Hurons of eastern Canada, according to the Jesuit Relations, prepared the acorns by "first boiling them in a lye made from ashes, in order to take from them their excessive bitterness." Another way was by boiling them in several waters.
During the famine winter of 1649-1650, after the Hurons, defeated by the Iroquois, had taken refuge on the Island of Saint Joseph, at the north end of Lake Huron, the Jesuits of the Mission at that place "were compelled to behold dying
skeletons ekeing out a miserable life;
. . the acorn was to them for the most part what the choicest viands are in France."
The Jesuits, before the snow had covered the ground, had bought 500 or 600 bushels of acorns, and had dispatched several canoes to procure a supply of fish from the Algonkin tribes 60 to 100
Photograph by C. Hart Merriam
OPEN-AIR KITCHEN, WHERE THE ACORN MEAL IS LEACHED AND COOKED
Beyond the leach is the fire, covered with stones which are being heated to cook the mush in the baskets on the left. The leach is a low, concave mound of dry debris gathered under the manzanita and lilac bushes, consisting mainly of dead and broken leaves and bark, which together form a porous bedding through which the water easily finds its way. The leach is lined with a fiber mat, or cloth, and the branch of an evergreen tree is laid on the meal to catch and spread the water so that it will not dig into the meal. Used by the Mewuk Indians of the Sierra foothills region, California.
parts of Mexico, acorns are sometimes eaten by the people, and they are relied upon to supply the principal food of the countless thousands of hogs that roam at will through the glades and forests, thus contributing materially, albeit indirectly, to the support of the population.
And there is every reason to believe that a fair proportion of the species might be utilized with advantage to vary or supplement the daily diet of the people. This would be especially desirable in the case of the ill-nourished poorer classes-those subject to the inroads of hook-worm and pellagra.
In California the relative merits of the different kinds are well known. At middle elevations in the interior of the State the fruit of the black oak is the favorite. while in the humid coast belt that of the tanbark oak is most prized. Besides
Photograph by C. Hart Merriam
ANOTHER TYPE OF LEACH, MADE BY THE WUKSACHE INDIANS OF ESHOM VALLEY This leach consists largely of sand placed on a bed of dry, dead leaves and twigs supported on a square framework of poles. The looped stick resting against the leach is used for stirring the hot stones in the basket while the cooking is going on.
these, the fat acorns of the blue oak of the dry foothills and the elongate ones of the valley oak of the bottomlands and adjacent slopes are gathered and consumed in large quantities; and in years when the nut crop of the favorite species fails, most, if not all, of the others are turned to account.
Even at the present time hundreds of bushels of acorns are annually gathered and eaten by California Indians; but the
quantity consumed by the white population is negligible, the main part of the crop (amounting to thousands of bushels) being devoured by hogs, bear, deer, squirrels, and other animals or allowed to go to waste on the ground.
In the old world the utilization of acorn food for man and beast dates from
The split meats may be seen spread out to dry on cloths on the ground and also on an elevated platform alongside the house. One of the large carrying baskets in which the acorns are gathered stands near the door.
very ancient times, and notwithstanding the importance of the wood for timber and fuel, and of the bark for tanning, acorn mast was long considered the most valuable product of the oak forests.
In England, France, and Italy, during periods of food scarcity, boiled acorns were used as a substitute for bread; and in most of the Mediterranean countries the sweet fruit of Quercus esculenta (mind the name) is still prized by the inhabitants. In Algeria and Morocco the large acorns of an evergreen oak are eaten both raw and roasted, while in Spain those of the Gramont oak are regarded as even superior to chestnuts.
V. K. Chesnut quotes Giovanni Memmo to the effect that in Spain and Italy sometimes as much as 20 per cent of the total food of the poorer people consists of sweet acorns. But as the indigestible tannin is not removed, it has been found that 10 per cent of the acorns pass away