Jeff Smith 2:30 p.m., June 26
Acorns for Breakfast?
Do you know how to eat Californian?
Like, from what Mother Nature has to offer in California’s natural state, right here?
Me neither, but I’ve started trying to learn what every Kumeyaay knew back in the days before the rest of us turned up: that it’s a food factory here if we’d just let what grows naturally grow.
Hard times, that should be good news, right?
Mainly, we’re talking acorns. Yes people eat acorn meat. It’s nothing new: from Europe to Japan they have been eating acorns as their staple for millennia. It just became uncool last two centuries, after all the other grains came onstream.
Even with the reduced number of oaks in the county these days, tens of millions of acorns drop and go to waste, or into squirrel lairs. Free gifts from the California gods, hidden in plain sight.
Of course, you have to squish them into mush, and leach them of all their bitter acids, but when you have the final product, you’ve got the equivalent of rice for the Asians or wheat for the Europeans. It’s your staple. And acorns grow like crazy here, no pesticides, no fertilizers, if you just give oaks the space. It’s like, yes, money does grow on trees. And because different oak species overlap in our neck of the woods, the supply can be pretty reliable.
I’ve eaten the mush, once when it was properly made, and once when I tried to leach and prepare it. Uh, no. Don’t try this at home till you’ve really got the preparation down. At the best of times it tastes, well, mushy. But so is rice or wheat when you don’t have anything to flavor them.
People use it as the basis for dips, for stews, and to stave off hunger. Because one, acorn meat is extra nutritious and low in all the bad stuff. Two, it doesn’t go bad. It can last forever, pretty much. Which, I guess, is why squirrels squirrel acorns away.
Mike Connolly Miskwish has been telling me about it for years. He’s an aerospace engineer who returned to his Campo reservation Kumeyaay roots about ten years ago. Says the land has been pummeled for two centuries since the Spanish came in with their cattle. So “It needs to rest.” Then, he says, start planting. The natives, the willows and above all, the oak. Then you’ll have a fabulous food source that can create truly healthy nutrition.
So tell me why we can’t make a truly San Diegan bread from acorns? A truly San Diego breakfast cereal? A truly San Diegan weight-loss acorn-based diet product that actually works?
All we have to do is talk to the San Diegans who’ve been living here, and eating the stuff for, like, 10,000 years.
A good place to start learning more is at Kumeyaay Community College at Sycuan. Ask about Richard Bugbee’s Kumeyaay ethnobotany classes (not as scary as they sound) which he’s starting in January. Call Sycuan Education Department, 619-445-6917.