I just picked up my copy of the Spring issue of News from Native California. Rose Ramirez’s article about Barbara Drake and Lori Sisquoc’s edible foods class at Idyllwild Summer Arts in 2009 is featured, as well as CSUSM colleague Joely Proudfit’s article about why the census is critical for American Indians.

And friend and anthropologist Mike Wilken writes about a workshop held last summer at the future site of the Kumiai Community Museum in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico. On July 25, 2009, seven Kumiai plant specialists taught a diverse group of students, as Mike writes, “to work pounding, grinding, leaching, cooking, and tasting acorns, chia, and manzanita.” I was one of those fortunate students.

In the photo above, Norma Meza, Kumiai workshop coordinator, demonstrates the traditional uses of native plants. Mike is pictured next to her.

In the photo above, Garry McClintock, another one of the lucky workshop students, grinds acorn flour with a mano and metate. Garry is renowned for his hand-crafted saddles as well as for his documentary film, Corazon Vaquero, The Heart of the Cowboy, set in the remote and rugged mountains of Baja.

In the photo above, Norma Maestra is also grinding the acorn with a mano. Below, a student sifts the acorn flour which will be used to make shawii, or acorn mush.

Shawii isn’t something we make just for special occasions,” explained Kumiai instructor Julia Meza. “We like to eat it as often as we can.” Meza and her daughter Telma, who have several large coast live oaks(Quercus agrifolia) on their property at San Jose Tecate, collect acorns in the fall and enjoy them as long as the supply lasts. —Mike Wilken in Too Mush Fun: A Tasty Approach to Kumiai Uses of Native Plants

Kumiai elder Julia Meza, one of the seven plant specialists.

Kumiai plant specialist Telma Meza, Julia’s daughter.

Above, Kumiai plant specialist Aurora Meza toasts chia seeds outside over a wood fire. Her students will then grind the seeds and mix them with water to make a healthy and delicious drink. The chia is the local Salvia columbariae. Most of the chia we now can purchase online or in health food stores is the cultivated chia, Salvia hispanica. Below is a portrait of a comtemplative Aurora Meza.

At the end of the workshop, Moisés Santos cleans off the portable metates used to grind the toasted chia seeds, acorn, and manzanita berries.

Moisés is an activist in the fight against building the Tiger Woods-sponsored Punta Banda golf course off the Baja coast. He has compared the project to building a golf course in Stonehenge, Yosemite, Big Sur, or the Grand Canyon, and he writes of the destruction not only of endangered coastal sage scrub plant communities but also 25  archaeological sites of great significance. Mike Wilken has been active in this fight as well. Viva Punta Banda.

Below, metates and manos from the workshop are lined up outside, creating a compelling still life.

Thanks to Mike Wilken for inviting me to the workshop and inspiring the title of the post. His beautifully written essay can be accessed online at the CAREM website, a group whose mission is “to identify, protect, preserve, restore, and present to the public the historical and cultural heritage of Baja California, Mexico,” and who helped to organize the workshop with the Kumiai plant specialists and others.

Posted by deborah small


  1. xe dua audi

    Baja’s original slow food – Deborah Small’s Ethnobotany Blog



  2. Your photographs are amazing.



    1. deborah small July 22, 2010 at 8:13 am

      thank you. it was a fantastic workshop.

      New comment on your post “Baja’s original slow food” > Author : eric (IP: , > E-mail : eric@pechagna-nsn.gov > URL : > Whois : http://ws.arin.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?queryinput=



  3. in the workshop were their separate batches of acorns to begin leaching and ones that had already been leached for tasting? if all the leaching was done during one class i’d love to know the technique!



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