Apache Gatherers Sow Seeds Of Past During Summer Harvest

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At 8 a.m., 70-year-old Winona Nosie pulls a crate up under an oak tree, takes a seat and begins her work day. She will labor in the heat of the sun until it begins to set, working arduously to preserve part of her Apache heritage.

Hunched over, Nosie meticulously searches the ground for the best fallen acorns, a tradition that Nosie has practiced from the time she was a small girl. When her mother and grandmother used to take her to pick acorns, they traveled by horse, donkey or wagon to areas within Arizona and New Mexico.

"Times certainly have changed," Tonto Apache Tribe member Jeri Johnson said. "When my sister and I used to go with our mother, we used to travel on foot from site to site. Now people bring their cars and their chairs."

Change has not only come in the form of comfort, but also of gender equality.

From June to July, men now join their sisters, wives, daughters and mothers in this traditionally all-women activity, searching the ground for fallen acorns and picking enough to feed their families until the following harvest.

"You have to get to them before monsoon season," Johnson said. "This year our season will last a little bit longer because we haven't been getting any rain."

Nosie and her family from White River, Ariz., who have collected 75 pounds of acorns this day, are reaping the benefits of Payson's dry summer.

The day's findings will be made into the staple food of the traditional Apache diet a bitter-sweet acorn stew.

Much like the gathering of the acorns, the process of making the stew is a long and tedious one. But both activities allow the Apaches to share in a rich part of their culture that has been passed unchanged from generation to generation over the course of hundreds of years.

Despite modern advances, the Apaches have preserved the original preparation methods. This traditional food is prepared naturally; no pesticides or preservatives are permitted to taint this time-honored delicacy.

Instead, Apache tribal members allow the natural rays of the sun to dry out the acorns, a process that takes up to three days. Each bitter nut is then separated from its shell by hand, ground into a consistency similar to cornmeal, and sprinkled over beef or made into a sauce for the stew.

Other popular uses for acorn powder include dumplings, Indian tamales and sauces. Whatever the method, acorn powder is a part of the everyday menu for Arizona's Apaches.

"We use the natural food that the Creator gave us to prepare the food that feeds our tribes," Johnson said. "Our ancestors did this, we do it, and our children will continue to carry on our tradition."

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