ATTRIBUTION: named for the Mesquite tree, an important traditional resource
About the Mesquite Tree
One of the most important Cahuilla food sources was ily – the mesquite tree. Every part of these deciduous trees was utilized by the Cahuilla: the trunk, leaves, limbs, thorns, roots, bark, sap, and the nutritious bean pod. In fact, mesquite trees played such a vital role in desert Cahuilla life that mesquite thickets were claimed by specific groups. Rules regarding who owned a given grove were well known to adult men, especially clan leaders, and groups were prepared to fight if any outsider was found making use of them. A heavily producing tree might even be owned by a specific family.
Food products from the mesquite tree were available at three stages in the annual growth cycle. These stages consisted of gathering the blossoms in the spring, the green pods in early summer, and the mature, dry pods in early autumn. When blossoms were gathered, they were roasted in a pit of heated stones and then squeezed into balls before being eaten. Roasted blossoms could be stored and later reconstituted with water. Green and dried pods were picked by all members of a family, with children crawling between branches to pick pods from the center of a mesquite thicket. The green pods were eaten fresh or crushed in mortars to produce a pulpy juice. (The mortars themselves might be made from a mesquite stump.) This extract mixed with water was consumed continually in the summer months. Mature dried pods were ground into a meal. The interior seeds were never removed – pod and all were pounded in a wooden mortar. This ground meal, known
as pechita or menyikish, was placed into a basket or vessel dampened with water and left for a day or so to harden. Called kakhat in dried form, these dried cakes were broken into pieces as needed and eaten plain, made into porridge, or mixed with water to form a beverage.
Smaller limbs of the mesquite were considered an excellent material for bow-making and rabbit sticks. Mesquite wood was viewed as one of the best firewoods, providing a hot, durable flame for cooking, firing pottery, and warmth. Larger limbs of the mesquite were used as structural corner posts, rafters for houses, and as granary supports. The mesquite thorn was used for puncturing the skin for tattoos. Mesquite gum was used in securing the foreshafts of arrows, attaching baskets to mortars, and for medically treating wounds. Pounded, rubbed, and pulled mesquite bark was used as a soft fiber for weaving skirts, making diapers for babies, and for constructing carrying nets for pottery.
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