Sunday, August 07, 2005

Native foods

It's still hot and dry in south Austin (though it rained yesterday north of the river), and it's the low point in the year for birdwatching. Unless I manage to get out really early in the morning, which, usually, I do not, I don't even bother to take binoculars on my walks--most of the birds, and almost all the mammals, including people, are sensibly staying quietly in the shade.

But a hot summer walk has its charms. Yesterday I stopped to visit with an archaic Indian flint blade I found a couple of years ago, nice flintknapping which I hid under a cactus further from the trail so it would not end up in someone's arrowhead collection. The blade is getting hard to find, as it works its way under fallen leaves and grass.

I don't consider my contemplation of it a religious experience, exactly, more a meditative one. It's probably a couple of thousand years old. People have been living here in Central Texas for ten thousand years at least, and possibly much longer--archaeologists argue about that. The heat, the sweat, the cicadas, the cactus, all draw you into a moment outside regular temporality. I like that.

We know from common sense, and from accounts of people like Cabeza de Vaca, who lived with Texas Indians, though probably not quite this far inland, that living here back then was a hard life. The previous people usually didn't have much to eat. (In Texas "the previous people" is the best way to refer to Native Americans, because we killed most of them and drove the rest out.)

But we are now entering the season of abundance, if you were a person here before the Europeans. August through mid-December was harvest time, when they sowed what they did not reap, the big wild-plant food sources. Mesquite beans, prickly pear cactus fruits, and, after that, pecans. They all look abundant this year. Even I could live off the land here from now till December. Mesquite pods are not all that tasty, but I have ground them with a mortar and pestle to make mesquite flour tortillas, which, had, well, a distinctive flavor. And cactus fruits are OK. Not great, but if you're hungry, I'd guess I'd change that opinion. Pecans, of course, are delicious, and will be ready just about when the cactus and mesquites are done.

Prickly pear fruits. You burn off the glochids, or wipe them off diligently with woven fiber mitts. Or with a handful of grass if you're desperate.
prickly pear cactus fruits

Nearly ripe mesquite pods
nearly ripe mesquite beans

These pecans won't be ripe until October
pecans in August

And someone who still knows how to live off the land, a huitzil. Female black-chinned hummingbird probing a verbena
black chinned hummingbird

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