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Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region (1933) by S. A. Barrett and E. W. Gifford


Bulbs and corms, vernacularly “wild potatoes,” were important in the Miwok dietary. The names of twenty-eight were recorded, but only twelve of these have been identified, and one of these, the snake lily (Brodiaea volubilis [Kell.] Baker), was not eaten. Of the twelve identified two are used by the Yuki and Pomo: White Mariposa lily (Calochortus venustus19 Dougl.) and Carum kelloggii20 Gray. The root fibers of the latter are also used for brushes, a use quite unknown to the Miwok.

Ookow (Brodiaea pulchella [Salisb.] Greene). Silw (C). Steamed in the earth oven and eaten in the same fashion as Brodiaea coronaria.

Harvest Brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria [Salisb.] Jepson). Walla (C). It is dug about the first of May when its shoots are just appearing above ground. The bulb lies deeper in the ground than that of the Mariposa lily. It was dug by both men and women, the occasion being a four-day excursion and picnic. The time for the digging was set by the chief. Four days were spent in digging the bulbs, during which time none was eaten. The bulbs were transported in burden baskets to the cooking place, where they were cooked in the earth oven on the fourth day.

The earth oven for the bulbs consisted of a hole about a foot or foot and a half deep and three feet in diameter, excavated with the digging stick. Stones were heated in a fire built beside the pit. When the fire had burnt down the coals were raked into the pit and the hot stones put on top of them. Over the stones were put the broad leaves of the Wyethia helenioides Nutt. When the stones were completely covered by the leaves, the bulbs were poured into the pit to a depth of about six inches. These bulbs were covered with leaves, on which hot stones were placed. The whole was covered with earth. Then water was poured around the edges of the pit, so that it worked down to the hot stones and coals, thus producing steam for the cooking which lasted about one hour. After cooking, the bulbs were removed by hand and placed in an openwork basket tray (tcamayu, C). Then a second and a third lot were cooked if the quantity gathered was large. Both walla and Mariposa lily bulbs were eaten without salt.

White Brodiaea (Brodiaea hyacinthina [Lindl.] Baker). Wsumay (C). The bulbs were dug from a depth of several inches at the same season as B. coronaria and Calochortus venustus. They were steamed in the earth oven with B. coronaria.

Golden Brodiaea (Brodiaea ixioides [Ait.f] Wats.). Silw (C). The bulbs were eaten.

“Nigger-toe” (Brodiaea sp.). Tene (C). Cooked and eaten.

Grass Nuts (Brodiaea sp.). Wata' (C). Eaten.

White Mariposa Lily (Calochortus venustus Dougl.). Tcikimtci (C). The bulbs were usually dug when buds appeared on the plant in April. However, they could be dug much later as long as the flower marked the spot. The bulbs were usually about six inches deep and were dug with the digging stick by both men and women. The bulbs keep only four or five days, then shrivel. Therefore, they cannot be stored for later use. The bulbs were roasted for about twenty minutes in the ashes of a fire that had died down. When extracted they were soft, like boiled potatoes. No ceremony was necessary before the eating of the first of the crop of this bulb, except for dancers who always had to be pressed before eating the first of any new food. Sometimes the Mariposa lily bulbs were cooked in the earth oven with the bulbs of Brodiaea coronaria. Yellow Mariposa lilies (Calochortus luteus Dougl.) are called tcikimtci susa (C) and the bulbs are prepared and eaten like those of the white variety.

Squaw-root (Carum gairdneri Gray). Tui (C), siketi (C), tu'i (S). Boiled and eaten like a potato. Its meat is white.

Anise (Carum kelloggii Gray). Sakasu (C), sa'kkasu ( S ). Eaten.

Soaproot (Chlorogalum pomeridianum [Ker] Kunth.). A small mild soaproot (so'pa, P; spa, N) was eaten. It was wilted and rubbed to remove the dried outer leaf parts. Baking in the earth oven followed. The bulbs were also dried without baking for winter use. Soaking was then necessary before baking. The uses of this plant for fish poison, for detergent, for glue, and for brushes are discussed elsewhere.

Eulophus (Eulophus bolanderi [Gray] C. & R.) Olasi (C). Cooked in baskets by stone-boiling for ten minutes, becoming mealy like potatoes. They were then peeled and eaten. When the acorn supply was much reduced or exhausted, as in June, they served as a substitute. When so used, they were washed, sun-dried three or four days with skin on, and pounded in a bedrock mortar. The resulting meal was cooked in a basket to form siwla (C), the equivalent of nppa or acorn soup. Although pounded with skin on, Eulophus bolanderi yielded a white meal. The soup or mush prepared therefrom was also made into biscuits (ule, C). Eulophus bolanderi was quite palatable raw as well as cooked. It was preserved by mashing, drying, and basket storing. When needed it was repulverized and cooked. Pressing, blowing, and sucking of prospective eaters were performed for the first of the crop, which was gathered at the behest of the chief. The officiant pretended to suck a bulb from each person’s forehead. This followed the division of the olasi by the chief to the different families. Olasi bulbs are said to grow particularly well on lava beds; for example, near Strawberry, Tuolumne county.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum formosum, H. B. K. var. scouleri Coulter). A'iisa (C). Eaten fresh as it came from the ground, or dried, ground into flour, and used like acorn meal.

Corn Lily (Veratrum californicum Durand). Sulumta (C). Roasted in hot ashes, peeled, and eaten. It was not stored.

Unidentified bulbs and corms were the following: keleme (C); lippasi (C), stem eaten; o’llūtcū (S), very sweet; popkine (C), stem eaten; pū'kpūkū (S); seladi (C); siksile (C), prepared like Eulophus bolanderi, when eaten raw having a flavor like parsnips, which disappeared with cooking; solasi (C), stem eaten; tcikiwitci (C), white meat, boiled; tcītī'ksa (S); tipi (C), not eaten, because sickening; tū’lla (S), grows near stream banks, pulverized and cooked as porridge like acorn meal; tūsū'mkele (C), roasted in hot ashes about five minutes; yumutu (C), a long bulb or corm, boiled; ytcotu (C).

19Chesnut, 323.
20Chesnut, 372.

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