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Landmark Focus: Living Off the Land

PictureAcorns

The natural land in Orange County has been home to humans for thousands of years. You might have wondered from time to time how people survived – what they ate, where they sheltered, how they dealt with heat and drought. Indigenous groups like the Tongva lived in the area for many years before Spanish explorers colonized the area. These groups moved with the seasons and subsisted on the lands, using tried-and-tested techniques to prepare food you might not have known was edible. 

The abundance of wildlife in the area provided meat, and coastal dwellers were able to fish. People had to get a bit more creative with plant ingredients. Take acorns as an example. Oak trees grow throughout the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. The raw acorns that fall from oaks contain too many tannins for humans to safely consume, but through a process of shelling, boiling and “leaching,” a process that removes tannins, the Tongva could produce usable acorn to be ground into pieces or a fine meal. Selecting good acorns is a bit of an art, as some acorns are sweeter and more palatable than others. Good acorns, processed with this system, can result in sweet acorn meal which is rich in fat content, vitamins and minerals.

What can you do with acorn flour? Native Americans used processed acorns in a variety of ways. These days, acorn flour is making something of a comeback. Comparable to almond flour, it can be used as a gluten-free substitute for flour in baked goods. The sourcing and processing required for acorn meal makes it more expensive and harder to come by than some other flours but baking with it can be a fun way to connect to the area’s roots.

Indigenous groups in the area were similarly crafty with a variety of ingredients that you won’t find on today’s menus, such as the tiny seeds of Eriogonum fasciculatum, the California buckwheat plant. You might be more familiar with this plant’s European cousin, Fagopyrum esculentum, a buckwheat which is still used around the world to make soba noodles, crepes and porridge.

To learn how people survived on the land long before modern technology and agriculture, sign up for an interpretive activity today (page#). In Nature’s Grocery Store (page #), you’ll learn all about human food sources on the land, and even get to try some! Explore Nature with Your Senses (page #) explores how using your senses can be helpful in a wilderness setting as participants study the flora and fauna of the Landmarks. Participants in Celebrate Cultures in Nature: Acorn Harvest (page #) will discover unique historical tales about the Landmarks and learn how to process acorns to celebrate the autumn harvest.