Rose Ramirez and I went out today to gather wild cherries, Prunus ilicifolia. We want to make sure we have a supply when Kumiai plant specialist Teodora Cuero from Baja comes to visit on September 24th. We’re going to ask her to demonstrate for us how she processes the seeds to make a pinole. Most of the cherries were already drying on the branches or had fallen to the ground. The birds were here before us, and many of the trees were stripped of their fruits. We did find a few trees with ripe cherries. We ate the semi-sweet thin layer of fruit, but saved the seeds, the most important part for Teodora now and a subsistence food for her ancestors.
When we returned home after gathering as many wild cherries and seeds as we could in a couple of hours, we cracked open a couple of the dry seeds to check out the kernels inside. The traditional method would be to crack the seed open using a stone, but we used a small hammer. One kernal had already rotted, but the kernels of two other seeds looked very nice, very healthy. It is those kernels that Teodora uses to make her pinole. The kernels in this fresh state are toxic (hydrocyanic acid) and must be processed by leaching them and cooking them before consuming them.
Barbara Drake, a Tongva elder, told Rose and me in a recent interview that wild cherry is in her top four edible plants: Acorn is #1, pinyon #2, hollyleaf cherry #3, and chia #4.