Ohlone Foodways

Illustration “Berkeley Cuisine,” by Madeline Rohner (painted for the Berkeley Historical Society, 2020).
Exhibit Intro and Contents

Recreated image of Indigenous Californians fishing in tule canoe
Recreated image of Indigenous Californians fishing in tule canoe1
Berkeley Is Chochenyo Ohlone Land
Map of Ohlone Territories

The people Europeans once called “Costeños” or “Costanoan,”now known as Ohlone, have made their home in the Bay Area for thousands of years, and still do.

The word Ohlone has become a general catch-all designation for the indigenous people from San Francisco and the East Bay south to the Monterey area. In reality, they were made up of many smaller groups, or tribelets, that once flourished in the region before the Europeans came.3 The people of what is now Berkeley, in the Huchiun territory, spoke a dialect of the Chochenyo language .4

Ohlone Territories2

Community Foraging
Indigenous hunters, from a painting by Louis Choris, ca. 1820

In early days, the boundaries of tribelets (each of which could include a few small villages) were physical in nature. In a world without automobiles, groups of people lived off the land within their territory. Hunting and foraging were essential. The Ohlone had a wealth of foodstuffs available. They hunted deer, antelope, elk, wildcats, squirrels, rabbits, waterfowl (including Canada geese), and land-based birds like the mourning dove, robin, and California quail.5 The bay and creeks were rich sources of fish including salmon and shellfish including oysters.6

From a painting by Louis Choris, ca. 1820

Gathering Berries and Acorns

Berries that grew and were enjoyed in the area included: blackberries, elderberries, wild grapes, strawberries, manzanita berries, gooseberries, madrone berries, and toyon berries.8

For many people in the region, acorns were the most important food staple. Four types of oak flourished in the area. Hazelnuts and buckeyes were also important. Like acorns, buckeyes would be leached to remove bitterness before cooking.9 Black oak acorns are still very popular and are stored in personal home granaries.

Picture of grinding holes at Mortar Rock Park, Berkeley. Photo by Stephen Rosen,
Grinding holes at Mortar Rock Park, Berkeley. Photo by Stephen Rosen, BHS #2512.
Picture of Toyon Berries
Toyon Berries7
Modern Foodways
Picture of eggs

While not all these staples are available, today’s Ohlone still aspire to the freshest ingredients possible. Modern Ohlone foodways have become a source of cultural connection to modern Berkeleyans of all backgrounds. Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino opened Cafe Ohlone in 2018. Whether we call it forage to table or farm to table, locally sourced food is once again important in our lives.

By Pamela Rouse

[1] “Pre-History,” San José History, https://www.sanjosehistory.org/pre-history/. Accessed 14 September 2020.
[2] UC Berkeley Dept. of Equity & Inclusion: Centers for Educational Justice & Community Engagement, “Ohlone Territories Map” https://cejce.berkeley.edu/ohloneland. Accessed 14 September 2020.
[3] Malcolm Margolin. The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco Monterey Bay Area. (Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1978), 1.
[4] Richard Levy. “Costanoan.” Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 8. Edited by Robert Huizer.  (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, U.S. G.P.O) 197), 485.
[5] Levy, 491.
[6] Levy, 492.
[7] Larry Oglesby Collection, “Toyon,” from Claremont: Claremont College Digital Library, 1981. https://ccdl.claremont.edu/digital/collection/loc/id/3927. Accessed 14 September 2020.
[8] Levy, 491.
[9] Levy, 491



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