The Culture of the Luiseño Indians, by Philip Stedman Sparkman, , at sacred-texts.com
The Luiseños had a great variety of food, though to a casual observer the district they inhabit appears to be, for the most part, of a semi-desert character, especially in the latter half of the year.
The winter and spring rains cause numerous annual plants to grow, and many of these are used as greens, being either boiled or eaten fresh with salt.
The seeds of many plants are also used, besides numerous fruits and berries. Seeds are always parched, this being effected by placing them in a broken piece of pottery, or a vessel made for that purpose, and toasting them over the fire, stirring them to prevent burning. Formerly they were often parched by being placed in a basket with live coals, and shaken until they were sufficiently cooked. After being parched, seeds are pounded into flour in a mortar. When required for use, this flour is mixed with water to form a mush, which is eaten cold.
The staple food of the Luiseños, as of so many California Indians, was acorns. At least six species of oaks are found in Luiseño territory. The acorn considered by far the most palatable is that of the black or Kellogg's oak, Quercus Californica. This begins to be found at an elevation of about three thousand feet, and is abundant on Palomar.
Next to the black oak the acorns of the common live oak, red oak, or field oak, Quercus agrifolia, are most esteemed. This tree is found from the coast to over three thousand feet above sea level. The acorns of this species contain more oil than those of the black oak, and the meal ground from them is of a yellow color.
Quercus chrysolepsis, usually called the maul or Valparaiso oak, grows on Palomar in the canons at a somewhat lower elevation than the black oak. Its acorns, which are the largest and hardest of any of the oaks, are also considered to be palatable, though difficult to grind, and are gathered when those of the two species first mentioned fail.
The acorns of the white oak, Quercus Engelmanni, the live oak, Quercus Wislizeni, and the scrub oak, Quercus dumosa, are
not at all esteemed, and are only used when other acorns cannot be obtained.
Until quite recently large quantities of acorns were gathered and stored away in acorn granaries. When required they were taken from the granary, placed one by one on a stone, and struck with another stone with sufficient force to crack the hulls. They were then placed in the sun, which caused the hulls to break open, after which these were removed from the acorn with a bone tool, maavish.
Afterwards the acorns were pounded into flour in a mortar, a stone pestle being used for this purpose. The meal is leached with hot water to take out the bitterness. This is sometimes accomplished by placing it in a rush basket and pouring warm water over it; at other times by placing it in a hole made in sand, and then pouring warm water over it, the water soaking away through the sand. The leached meal is afterwards cooked in an earthen vessel.
The importance attached to acorns as food is shown by the fact that large pines were often cut down merely for the sake of the acorns stored in the bark by the woodpeckers.
The kernel of a wild fruit, a kind of plum or cherry, Cerasus or Prunus ilicifolia, was formerly used to some extent as food. The fruit was spread in the sun until thoroughly dried, when the shells were cracked and the kernels extracted. These were ground into flour which was leached and cooked in exactly the same manner as acorn meal. This flower is almost as white as that made from wheat. The pulp of the fruit is also eaten, but it is exceedingly thin, though not unpleasant to the taste. This fruit grows but sparingly in the San Luis Rey basin, but large quantities grow in the hills and canons around Cahuilla valley, where it was formerly an important article of food.
Choke cherries are much liked, notwithstanding their puckery taste. They are considered to improve by being kept for a few days after being gathered.
The berries of the toyon or Christmas berry, Heteromeles or Photinia arbutifolia, are used as food, being parched and eaten without further preparation.
The berries of several species of gooseberries, currants, and
blackberries were eaten, but these grow but sparingly, and were not an important article of food.
Elderberries grow in great abundance in some parts of the San Luis Rey valley. They are much liked, and were formerly gathered in large quantities and dried, besides being cooked and eaten when fresh.
Wild grapes, which abound in the San Luis Rey valley, are cooked and eaten, but they were never dried and preserved like elderberries.
There are several species of prickly pear cactus, the fruit of some of which is much esteemed, while that of others is not. It is eaten fresh, and was formerly peeled, dried in the sun, and stored away for future use, being eaten without being cooked. The seeds were saved, parched, ground into meal, mixed with water in the usual manner, and used as food. The seeds of the cactus known as "cholla" were also used.
The berries of the aromatic sumac, Rhus trilobata, were ground into meal and used as food, as were manzanita berries. The pulp only of the latter, but the entire berry of the sumac, was used. Neither of these kinds of berries were parched before being ground, nor was the meal afterwards cooked, but simply mixed with water and eaten.
The bulbs of several plants of the lily family were used as food. They were mostly eaten fresh, but were sometimes cooked.
The edible ground-mushroom is little esteemed, but the tree mushrooms that grow on cottonwood and willow trees are still a favorite article of food. Care is taken to gather them when tender. They are prepared for food by boiling.
The scape or stalk of Yucca Whipplei, which grows quite abundantly in many localities on the hillsides, is roasted and eaten, as also was formerly the head of the plant, which was prepared for food by roasting in an earth oven.
By earth oven is meant a pit dug in the ground, in which stones are placed, and a fire built, which is kept up until the stones are well heated, when the article to be cooked is placed among them and covered over with earth.
The blossoms of both Yucca Whipplei and Yucca Mohavensis are eaten, being cooked in water.
The pods of Yucca Mohavensis are also eaten, being prepared by roasting in the coals.
The fresh tender shoots of the white sage are peeled and eaten raw. The fresh shoots of a large rush were also eaten raw formerly.
Mesquite trees are somewhat plentiful in parts of Luiseño territory, but not in the San Luis Rey valley, so the flour of mesquite beans is not an article of food here, though it is occasionally brought for sale from other localities.
Of the plants used as greens the most esteemed now-a-days is wild mustard, though this is probably an introduced plant, as it has no Luiseño name. It is the earliest food plant of the year.
Watercress and wild celery are both cooked, but not eaten fresh.
Several species of wild clover are eaten both fresh and cooked. Lamb's quarter, Indian lettuce, the leaves of the California poppy, peppergrass, and a great many other plants are boiled for greens.
Wild oats formerly were a favorite article of food. They were stripped with the hands from the stalk while standing, afterwards parched together with the husks, and pounded into meal in the usual manner. A favorite food is said to have been composed of oatmeal and dried elderberries, mixed with a little ground chia, the latter being probably used for seasoning.
The seeds of "chia," the Spanish name of Salvia columbariae, seem to be more esteemed than any other. Others much used are those of the white and black sages, the thistle sage, the soap-plant Chenopodium Californicum, peppergrass, and several Compositae. Some of the seeds used are so excessively small and difficult to collect that it seems probable they were more used by way of seasoning than for their actual food value.
An edible gum is obtained from the white oak, Quercus Engelmanni; this is the deposit of a scale-insect. After being gathered it is carefully washed to remove its bitter taste, and is then ready for chewing. It is used exactly as chewing gum.
Another gum is obtained from the milkweed, Asclepias eriocarpa. The sap of this plant, which runs out freely when the stems are cut, is collected and boiled in water until it coagulates.
[paragraph continues] It is then ready for use as chewing gum, and is much esteemed, but is not as lasting as that of the white oak.