Bulbs as a food resource

Diana Chapman rarebulbs@suddenlink.net
Sat, 23 Aug 2008 14:24:24 PDT
Well, yes, but they probably weren't eaten straight, but put into stews with 
meat and herbs.  They were roasted by the Shoshone and Nez Perce Indians by 
putting them in a large pit, layering with wet alder branches, then more 
bulbs, then more branches, until the pit was full.  A fire was built on top 
and kept going for at least two or three days.  The slow cooking turned the 
starches to sugar, and they were removed from the pit, cooled and peeled, 
then dried.  They are like a sweet cookie this way, and could be stored for 
extended periods.  For many western tribes they were the staple food, as 
important as acorns were to California Indians (and acorn soup is a bit 
bland, but you get used to it).

Patches were weeded, but also the seed heads are very different, and one way 
of making sure you were getting what you wanted was to trace the stem down 
from the camas seed head, then dig that bulb.  The bulbs are very difficult 
to tell apart.

I used to do a presentation on bulbs used as food for Indian kids at a 
campout, and cooked several different bulbs various ways.  Some were pretty 
interesting, Calochortus was the favorite when roasted, it had the flavor of 
a corn nut.  The kids were wonderful, and ate them all, and they liked the 
steamed bulbs of Camassia, although they are a bit gluey all by themselves.

There's a couple of postings on Native American uses of bulbs on the blog: 

Telos Rare Bulbs

>I once tried the bulbs of Camassia. Whether C. leichtlinii or C. quamash, I
> don't know. Steamed them. They had the appearance, texture, and taste of
> library paste.
> You could survive on them, but it wouldn't be a gourmet's paradise.
> PS: one reads that the local Salish Indians rogued out xygadenus from the 
> camas
> fields, and many references imply that zygadenus is only distinguishable 
> from
> camas by havinga white flower color.
> That's nonsense written by people with no first-hand experience. The
> inflorescence of zygadenus is unmistakably different from that of camas, 
> and
> it's not white anyway: it's a dirty yellow-green. The point of similarity 
> and
> possibly lethal confusion lies in the resemblance of the dormant bulbs.
> I collected by dinner when it was in flower, btw.
> -- 
> Rodger Whitlock
> Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
> Maritime Zone 8, a cool Mediterranean climate
> on beautiful Vancouver Island
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