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12.11.2002 -- The prehistoric population was more dense in California than in many other parts of America north of Mexico. Some specialists believe that about 150,000 people were living in the present area of California when the Spanish began to settle there. Obviously these Indians had a food supply ample for maintaining such a population, and the most important single element in their diet was acorns.

Most varieties of oak tree produce acorns that contain tannic acid and are bitter-tasting in their natural state. However, if acorns are soaked in water long enough the tannic acid disappears, and the nut that is left is sweet and nourishing. Archaeologists don't know when Indians discovered this source of food; they do know that the technique of preparing it spread along the West Coast wherever oak trees grew.

The process of leaching whole acorns was slow. It took months to get out all the tannic acid. Finally someone made an invention to speed up the work. Using mortar and pestle of the kind that crushed hard-shelled seeds to make them edible, a women ground the soft acorns into a flour. When this acorn flour was soaked in hot water, the tannic acid disappeared very quickly.

To do the leaching, a woman often made a small hollow in the sand beside a stream. In the hollow she placed a lining of leaves and poured in acorn flour. Then she filled a water-tight basket with water and dropped hot stone in it. When the water was hot she poured it over the acorn flour. Several dousings completely carried the acid away. What remained was a moist cake that could be eaten without delay or dried and saved for future use. The dried acorn flour, mixed with water, was served as a kind of thick soup or mush.

Acorn flour was not only tasty but nourishing. It contained about 21 percent fat, 5 percent protein, and 62 percent carbohydrate. Its fat content was much greated than that of either maize or wheat; its protein and carbohydrate content somewhat less.

Franklin Folsom; America's Ancient Treasures; Rand McNally and Company; New York, NY; 1974.
Reprinted for educational purposes under the "fair use" provision of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976.



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