Manna House of Oakhurst
40398 Junction Drive
PO Box 1658
Oakhurst, California 93644
Top of the hill, opposite Yosemite New Life Church
Open: 10 AM to 2 PM Monday thru Friday
For the bread of God
is he which cometh down from heaven,
and giveth life unto the world.
Eating on a budget
Here are a few ideas on how to keep your belly full during hard times. For a start, what if you only had the forests around you for your pantry?
Yosemite Nature Notes: Yosemite Indians; Yesterday and Today (1941) by Elizabeth H. Godfrey
Although the Yosemite Indians had neither knowledge of cultivation nor a market place to buy provisions, the food supply furnished by native plants, animals. Birds, and insects afforded them a varied diet. For meat they killed the deer, small mammals, birds, end caught fish. In addition, there were acorns, berries, pine nuts, edible plants, bulbs, mushrooms, fungi, larvae of ants and other insects in their season. The acorns of the Black Oak, rich in nutritious vitamins constituted the "staff of life.’'
Gathering the acorns, storing them in the chunk-ah granary, along with the complicated preparation of acorn mush and bread constituted a laborious and lengthy task that the Indian women accepted as a matter of routine.
The chuck-ahs in the Museum Garden "Indian Village" constructed by Maggie (Tra-bu-ce) are typical of the granaries employed for staring the acorns. At first glance these huge, cylindrical, basket-like affairs remind one of big, clumsy nests built by some giant bird. Four slender poles of Incense Cedar about eight feet high arranged in a square, and a center log or rock two feet high for the bottom of the chuck-ah, constitute the frame support. The basket-like interior is of interwoven branches of deer brush (Ceanothus) tied at the ends with willow stems and fastened together with wild grapevine. This is lined with dry pine needles and wormwood. The latter supposedly discourages the invasion of insects and rodents and grows abundantly in the museum region. After the chuck-ah has been filled with acorns gathered in the fall, it is topped with pine needles, wormwood, arid sections of Incense Cedar bark that are bound down firmly with grapevines to withstand windstorms. The final touch is thatching the exterior with short boughs of White Fir or Incense Cedar, with needles pointing downward to shed snow and rain, and fastening them securely bands of wild grapevine.
Method of Preparing Acorn Mush, Bread and Patties
After cracking and shelling the acorns, the spoiled meats were removed, and the kernels pounded into a fine yellow meal. Mortar holes in granite are found at every village site. In order to remove the bitter tasting tannin from the meal, leaching was required. The meal, mixed with water to the consistency of thin gruel, was poured into a shallow, hard-packed sand basin. At short intervals water was sprayed over the mixture, and allowed to seep through the sand. About seven applications were necessary to remove the tannin – the last three being increasingly warm.
Three products were obtained from the leaching according to the fineness of the meal: the fine meal on top served for gruel or thin soup; the middle product for mush, and the coarser material small patties were formed, and baked on hot, flat rocks.
The mush was cooked in a large cooking basket, using the proportion of two quarts of newly leached acorn meal to six of seven quarts of boiling water. Heat was provided for boiling the water and cooking the mush by gently lowering hot stones into a large cooking basket by means of wooden tongs. When the mush was done, the stones were removed with the tongs and dropped in cold water, so that the mush adhering to them might congeal and when cooled be pealed off and eaten.
One of the most important articles of trade between the Monos and the Yosemites was the insect delicacy Ka-cha’-vee, which came from the saline waters of Mono Lake in the form of a peculiar insect pupae, breeding there in countless numbers. The waves cast on the shore great windrows, composed of millions of bodies of these undeveloped species of fly. The squaws scooped up the pupae into large baskets, and when the smelly mass was thoroughly dry, they were scrubbed to remove skins. After further drying, they were packed for winter use. The final product had a flavor similar to shrimp, but was not nearly so strong.
Another prized commercial food product which the Monos traded with the Yosemites were the caterpillars of the Pandora moth, better known in the Indian tongue as Peaggi . These were collected in the Jeffrey Pine forests just east of Yosemite National Park. At a certain time known to the Monos, the caterpillars left the trees to enter the ground to form pupal cases, and were trapped in shallow trenches dug in loose soil around the trees. The squaws visited these trenches at intervals and collected the caterpillars that had accumulated there. They were then dried and stored away for cooking into stew. Grasshoppers and larvae of yellow jackets were also used as food, and were roasted in an earthen oven.
Miner's Lettuce was eaten raw. Sometimes red ants were allowed to run over the leaves to flavor them with formic acid, which gave an added sour taste. This was a substitute for the modern use of vinegar. Fern shoots of the Brake Fern, which commonly grows in moist, shaded regions over the valley floor and side canyon walls, were cut when in the uncurling stage, and after removing the hairs by scraping, were eaten raw or cooked. Clover was eaten raw when the plants were young and tender prior to the flowering stage. To prevent indigestion California Bay nut was munched with clover. Lupinus bi-color, as well as other species of lupines made good greens, especially when moistened with manzanita cider.
Bulbs were so important a part of the diet of the Yosemite Indians that they were one of a group of tribes described as "Digger" Indians by early California settlers.
Bulbs that made good eating were: Squaw Root, the various brodiaeas, especially bulbs of the Harvest Brodiaea, and Camass. Bulbs were baked in an earthen oven in the ground. First a small pit was dug. A layer of hot stones were placed in the bottom of it, and covered with leaves. A layer of bulbs came next, then alternate layers of leaves, stones, leaves and bulbs until the pit was filled. Over the top, a layer of earth sealed the oven, and a fire was built over it . The bulbs were allowed to bake all night, or for a period of about twelve hours. Fish and Game Fresh meat was usually cooked by broiling on hot coals, roasted before the fire, or in the earthen oven. For winter use meat was dried in long, thin strips by either hanging it on trees or bushes to expose to the air and sunlight, or by curing on a rack about eighteen inches above a small fire. Squirrels, rabbits and fish were roasted directly on coals, or in hot ashes, either whole or drawn. In the latter case, animal, bird or fish were stuffed with hot coals to make cooking more rapid.
Mushrooms were in season during April or May. Shredded and dried they were boiled and eaten with mineral salt, or ground in a mortar and cooked as soup.
Manzanita berries, which are smooth-skinned and of an agreeable acid flavor, were eaten raw, or made into cider for drinking or mixing with other food preparations. In making cider, the berries were crushed with a rock in a basket into a coarse pulp through which a small quantity of water was allowed to seep and drip into a watertight basket underneath. As the water seeped through the pulp, it extracted some of the berry flavor.
Other common berries used as food were wild raspberries, thimble berries, wild strawberries, currants, gooseberries, squaw berries, and wild cherries.
* Maggie (Tra-bu-ce) made a film Bread from Acorns in 1933. Watch it HERE.
* Maggie “Trabuce” Howard (1870-1947) burial record with biography HERE.
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