Friday, January 2, 2009

Word of the day: Balanoculture

I received an email a few months back from an uncle who was trying out making some Acorn meal. I thought, "man, these guys are as weird as I am."

Reading Oak: The Frame of Civilization by William Bryant Logan prompted Tom's experiment. Although I haven't read the oak book yet, Logan wrote another book that I found quite a great read, Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth.

As for the word of the day, here is the body of my uncle's email, quoting the book:

I just finished re-reading an excellent book - Oak: the frame of civilization. Here's a review of the section that got me going.

Chapter Three, "Balanoculture," (defined as societies whose diet staple is the oak acorn) discusses evidence the oak tree's earliest contribution to civilization was to feed people. Recent research suggests not all early humans were big game hunters who eventually converted to farming. Some of our human ancestors were balanophagists. As an example, the archaeological site at Catal Huyuk, a settlement 8,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent (modern-day Turkey), offers clues its residents ground and ate acorns as their diet staple. Once its tannin is leached out, the acorn is highly nutritious and surprisingly filling. (Logan personally sought out Korean acorn jelly and thought it even an appetite suppressant--Slim*Fast(TM) buyers might soon be trekking to their neighborhood Korean food stores.) The crucial fact for theories about what our ancient ancestors ate is acorns are much easier to harvest and store, for calories spent, than chasing animals.

Interestingly, California is home to some of the finest remnants of balanoculture. As an example, if one travels two and a half hours northeast of, say, the Bay Area, one crosses Highway 49 to reach the town of Volcano, where the Indian Grinding Rock State Historical Park preserves a legacy of those early Californians, the Miwoks: some 1,185 mortar holes, the largest collection of bedrock mortars anywhere in North America. Miwoks used pestles in these mortars to grind acorns and did so for five thousand years until early in the twentieth century.

As an aside, here are the quotes that make up the signature text of all of Uncle Tom's emails. I'm so pleased to come from a sane family.

"Nature is the art of God" - Dante

"No amount of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted" - Aesop

"Technology is of no use to us if it is used without respect for the earth and its processes" - Aldo Leopold

Enjoy the wisdom of relatives,



Kate said...

I ground up Garry Oak acorns as a kid and tried to eat them. The taste of the tannin convinced me they were poisonous til I read (years later) that you need to soak the tannin out of them first. Guess it was good they *aren't* poisonous >.<

Catherine Just said...

my friend Orchid ( yes that is her name ) teaches classes on all the uses of the acorn. She makes acorn bread. Next time you come down I will have to get you two to meet!