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California Black Oak

California black oak, US 50 (11/18/20) Philip Reedy

California black oak (Quercus kelloggi) are decorating the American River Canyon along US 50 with russet, orange, gold and green. November is their time to show their best. California black oak grow from 200′ to 7,000′ in elevation throughout the Sierra Nevada.

The black oak acorn, high in fat and nutrition, was the gourmet nut that western slope native villages would gather and trade with other tribes. Sierra Miwok villages had many granaries storing hundreds of pounds of black oak acorns. The acorns were later ground and leached to remove tannic acid, making a flour that was used to make mush.

California Indians made amazing baskets, but they did not make pottery. The mush was cooked by filling a tightly woven basket with the mush. Red hot rocks would be picked up with sticks (much like chop sticks), cleaned of ash in baskets filled with cleansing water, then dropped – one at a time – into the mush which would bubble and cook. It took three rocks to finish the mush, so the resulting meal was called “three rock soup.”

To our tastes today, acorn mush would be considered to be bland, but it was prized nourishment for native people and was a basic element of a diet comprised of game (mainly rabbits and deer), nuts, fish, insects, roots, berries, bulbs and tubers.

At one time, the black oak was the most important tree in the Sierra Nevada. Today, it is appreciated for its dark forked trunks, upwardly spreading branches and late fall color.

  • American black oak, US 50 (4,000′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
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