From the Archives: Annual ritual of gathering acorns

Eva Hendricks, a Mi-Wuk Indian, stands with a tray of acorns she had just gathered in Tuolumne, Calif. The log cabin in the background is used for storing acorns.
(John Malmin / Los Angeles Times Archives / UCLA)

Each fall, members of the Mi-Wuk Indian tribe gather an essential food — acorns. Photographer John Malmin and writer Charles Hillinger visited Eve Hendricks during the annual acorn harvest.

Hillinger reported in the Oct. 7, 1969, edition of the Los Angeles Times:

TUOLUMNE — Eve Hendricks walked through the hilly oak forest behind her home this week gathering acorns.


It is the autumn chore of the 65-year-old Mi-Wuk Indian and her tribe for whom the acorns are still an important food.

“The day Mi-Wuks stop eating acorns,” the silver-haired great-grandmother said, “is the day we become members of your tribe.”

Mrs. Hendricks gathers the acorns and stores them in a large bin behind her house here 10 miles east of Sonora.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been coming to this rock to grind my acorns into meal,” she said as she poured a small basket of shelled acorns into a well-worn hole.

“This pestle was my grandmother’s and my grandmother’s grandmother and how many others before them no one will ever know,” she said.

“Sometimes people ask how Indians in the old days ate acorns — they’re so bitter,” Mrs Hendricks continued, not slowing her pounding-grinding rhythm.

“I tell them, Indians never stopped eating acorns — least not Mi-Wuks. We sit in front of our TVs eating acorn soup and biscuits.

“You have to drain the bitterness out of them before making acorn soup and acorn biscuits.”

Nupa (acorn soup) and oo-lce (acorn biscuits) are two ways Mi-Wuks prefer acorns.

After making acorns into meal, Mrs. Hendricks spreads a white cloth over pine needles and cedar boughs on a podium-like drainage board.

She ran water over the meal for six hours, leaching the bitterness out of the nuts.

For soup, she simply added water and put it on the [stove]. Acorn soup has the appearance of chocolate milk, is bland and tastes like mild Hawaiian poi.

Acorns last indefinitely; [they] do not spoil if stored in the open air unshelled.

When Indians get together, we always have plenty of acorn soup and biscuits,” she added. …

In October 1969, Eva Hendricks empties a tray of acorns she had gathered into a bin.
(John Malmin / Los Angeles Times )

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