The first light of dawn brightens the east as I get out of bed, put on my robe and walk out to the kitchen. I pour some dry cereal in a bowl, open the refrigerator, get out a plastic jug of milk and pour it on the cereal. The automatic coffeemaker, which I filled last night with freshly ground coffee, has started and is scenting the air with the unmistakable aroma of a new morning. I sit at a table on the porch watching the sunlight slowly reveal a scene that people in these parts have seen for hundreds, or even thousands, of years. The view is of a hillside covered with trees—trees that have been there for decades and their ancestors for centuries. But a few things have changed.
Food, clothing, shelter are still the fundamentals of my life as they were in the lives of those who lived here centuries ago. But how I come by these essentials is not the same now as it was then. Take that bowl of cereal, for instance. Grain it is, but not grain I have grown or gathered. Not grain I have ground or cooked—not grain that has come from my neighborhood. I do not know the route this cereal has taken on its way to my bowl.
A century or two ago I would have grown and ground my grain. A few centuries before that my cereal would have been made of acorns gathered in late summer, enough to last for an entire year. In either case the grinding and cooking of the grain would gave been a necessary part of getting that cereal into the bowl—a task I now relegate to unknown hands in unknown places.
How did people manage to do these things I most certainly can not? In many ingenious ways, it seems.
Acorns, the staple of the native Ohlone people, were processed by grinding or pounding on rocks that often had been used for centuries for that purpose. The meal from this grinding was leached in baskets designed for the purpose to extract the tannins produced by oaks. The meal was then cooked, but in a way that seems incredible to imagine. An exquisite basket about a foot and a half in diameter made of native grasses was the cooking pot. The basket was woven so finely that it held the porridge without leaking. Heated rocks were added to the mixture to cook it.
YSI has such a basket, one that was used up until the early part of this century. Remains of acorn porridge, perhaps a long-forgotten breakfast, can still be seen between the finely woven rows in the bottom of the basket.
Did people become accustomed to this fare and look forward to its familiarity like we do with our favorite cereal? Did the smell of it cooking come to signal the start of a new day? We homos in this world have more in common than we realize. We all share the continuing certainty of mornings, which offer a fresh start to any of us who will take it.
Grain may be ground, acorns may be pounded in YSI’s school programs’ Ohlone Indians and Pioneer Organic Garden. For information call (408) 356-4945.