For many of the Antelope Valley Native Americans, such as the Kawaiisu and the Kitanemuk, nuts from the Pinyon Pine tree (Pinus monophylla) were a staple food source. There is cultural evidence to suggest that pinyon pine nut roasting was a common practice for the tribes in the local area, facilitated by the surplus of available Pinyon Pine trees. Today’s item, a winnowing basket, is essential to the processing of this resource. Winnowing baskets can be made by weaving together a variety of trees, grass, and other plant fibers, such as deer grass, willow, juniper, and more.
The pine nut harvest typically began in late summer, lasting into fall. It was often considered the last great harvest of the year before the start of winter. Due to the significance of the practice, harvest grounds where pine nuts were gathered were often considered sacred.
During harvest, cones were removed from trees using a hook-shaped tool and then gathered. In some instances, fallen pine nuts were collected directly from the forest floor. Once the pine cones had been gathered, processing began by roasting the cones over hot coals to open them up and dispel the seeds.
The shell of the pine nut is unusually tough, and to avoid breaking the nut inside, the seeds were roasted further so the shell would easily fall off. To do this, the seeds were placed in a winnowing basket along with hot coals. The basket was constantly stirred by swirling the tray and tossing the contents. This was continued until the seeds had a dark brown, crispy outer shell. After the coals were removed, the seeds were lightly ground with a mano to extract the inner fruit.
At this point, the nuts could be eaten but were often returned for a second roasting. They were placed back in the winnowing basket and tossed to fully remove the remains of the outer shell. Then, hot coals were returned to the basket. The roasting process was repeated until the nuts were dry and hard with a dark color. This method ensured proper storage of the nuts for later use as these stored nuts were quite useful during winter when plant resources are scarce.
After storage, the final procedure was processing them into a fine powder. For this, stone tools such as mortars/pestles and metates/manos were used for grinding. The flour would then be made into a thick paste by adding water, which could be eaten similarly to oatmeal, combined with vegetables or berries, or cooked into a flatbread.
"Antelope Valley Indian Museum, Antelope Valley Indian Peoples, AVIM.parks.ca.gov
Photo courtesy of MOAH Collections"