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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/48

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38
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the grains of our broom-cora. They are well flavored and nutritious, and are locally much used by the Indians for food. One of the Klamath lakes, which is about ten miles in diameter, is very shallow, and a large part of the surface is covered with the leaves of this water lily. The Indians who live upon the banks of this lake gather the capsules as they mature, and store them for winter use. In some of their wigwams we found as many as twenty or thirty bushels of them at the time of our visit in August. Just how they are used I can not say, but I believe they are either ground to make a kind of coarse flour, or are parched, as the grains of maize so frequently are by the Indians. Perhaps nowhere else does this plant furnish an important food-staple, but for many hundreds of the Klamath Indians it is one of the most valuable of their winter stores.

Acorns.—At least two kinds of oak in California furnish acorns which are used as food by the Indians (Quercus lobata and Quercus agrifolia). Of these, the first is the largest of Western oaks; it is found in the greatest perfection along the streams in the Sacramento valley, where I have sometimes seen it a hundred feet in height, and covering with its spreading branches a circle more than one hundred feet in diameter. The acorns are long—elliptical in outline, an inch and a half in length by half an inch or more in diameter. The kernel is sometimes rather bitter, but more palatable than that of any of our Eastern oaks, and quite nutritious. In the region where the tree abounds, the Indians in former times were in the habit of collecting acorns in large quantities and storing them for winter, and I have seen nearly a hundred bushels in one wigwam. They are prepared for eating by grinding the kernels to a kind of coarse flour; this is mixed with water to a thick paste; a circular depression with raised edges is made in the sand, into which this paste is poured. A fire is then built over it, and it is half-baked, half-steamed, to the Indian taste. This treatment takes the bitterness from the acorn, and the resulting cake, though according to our notions somewhat lacking in cleanliness, is well-flavored and wholesome.

In Southern California the evergreen-oak (Q. agrifolia) grows to be a magnificent tree, but throughout the broad region it inhabits it is more generally a small tree or even a large bush. Its acorns are long and pointed, sometimes quite acute; the kernel is somewhat bitter, but it is often used for food by the Indians who inhabit the more arid portions of the region where it is found, and where the scarcity of subsistence drives them to eat whatever is nutritious and not positively harmful.

The mezquite (Prosopis glandulosa) is one of the most widespread and useful plants in the southwestern portion of the United States and Northern Mexico. In Texas it is a tree of respectable size, the trunks attaining on the Brazos a diameter of a foot or more, but it is always low and spreading. In the more arid regions it sometimes