The Yokuts ate a great variety of food. They had fish, birds, elk, deer, antelope, rabbit, grasses, nuts, berries, and seeds of all kinds. The seeds, nuts, and berries were gathered during spring and summer. Some were eaten fresh, and some were dried and stored for the winter. The Yokut women were in charge of gathering, preparing, and cooking the food.
The main food of the Yokuts was acorns. Each fall, Yokut women and children hiked to groves of oak trees in the foothills. They gathered the fallen acorns and put them in burden baskets. The women attached the burden baskets to their headbands and carried the acorns home.
Next they spread the acorns out in the sun to dry. When the acorns were dry, the Yokuts stored them in other baskets, sometimes for months. Later women and children cracked the acorns open with stones to take off the hard shells. Then they used stone bowls and pounding stones called mortars and pestles to grind the “insides” of the acorn into a wet powder called acorn meal. The women dug shallow holes in the ground and then lined them with grape leaves. Next they sifted the meal and put it in the holes. Then they poured boiling water over the meal several times to take the bitterness out. This was called leaching. After the meal was leached, it was left to dry.
Click play to listen to a Yokut Acorn Grinding Song. From Yokut and Paiute Songs and Culture by Alfred Pietroforte (Naturegraph Publishers, 2005.) Permission to copy for educational use granted by collector/author.
As it dried, the meal formed a crusty cake. It was easy to lift this cake from the hole. The women mixed some of this dried meal with water to make dough. They patted the dough into cakes and put them on hot stones to bake acorn bread.
Yokut women also made acorn mush with the meal. They mixed it with water and cooked it in tightly woven baskets. The water was heated by dropping red-hot rocks into the baskets. When the water boiled, they stirred the mush constantly so the hot rocks would not burn through the bottom of the basket. Acorn meal is rich and nourishing. The Yokut people depended on the oak trees to give them acorns every year.
–Adapted from research by Mary Ann Brensel