Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Los Angeles Area >
Oct 9, 2007 06:34 PM

SoCal Indigenous Ingredients

So I'm not becoming a localvore, but I want our thanksgiving feast to celebrate the foods that are native to Southern California. The questions I have are: What are native foods? Where can I find them, especially in OC? Any help is greatly appreciated.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
    1. For some reason none of the fruits that I can think of are fall items

      Oranges, peaches, strawberries, bell peppers (I'm just mentally driving through the Conejo Valley). Olives, more oranges and other citrus in the San Gabriel Valley.

      California is such an agricultural powerhouse that it's hard to conceive of what's NOT available. Okay, so garlic is more Central Coast, not SoCal, as would be lettuce and artichokes.

      11 Replies
      1. re: SauceSupreme

        I'm shooting for what the native folks would have eaten before LA was founded. Since SoCal is so recently settled we really don't have a strong local cuisine. The cactus, olives, and peppers are interesting. I also thought of rabbit, sage, dove, spiny lobster, but I really don't know how much of the chaparral ecosystem is edible or even what can be found offshore.

        1. re: mrpeccator

          Watercress is something we collected / harvested and eaten out of streams (at least we did it when we were in the scouts) in Malibu State park.

          1. re: mrpeccator

            Does any place have a true indigenous local cuisine? Pizza and bagels were not invented in NYC. Chili peppers were not indigenous to Thai food; Portuguese traders introduced chiles to Siam from New Spain (aka Mexico).

            1. re: mrpeccator

              People used to rake clams in Newport, but that was like a hundred years ago...

              1. re: choctastic

                Still do - there are signs in Khmer (at least there were recently) on Alamitos Bay in Sunset Beach warning of toxins in them. Big surf clams ("pismo clams") were important, just based on middens (piles of shells deep in the soil) on the Channel Islands and remote parts of the coastline.

                Thought of a couple others - Mexican/blue elderberry (Sambucus mexicana, tart little blackish fruits in late summer/fall) and various native gooseberries (Ribes spp.), even more tart. And, there's always honey from native wildflowers. Had some good stuff from the Bouquet Canyon area for sale at the Beverly Hills Farmer's Market, which is bona fide L.A. County wildflower honey!

                Reminds me - I saw a great-looking gooseberry pie at Dupar's in the Farmer's Market yesterday. Sort of pale greenish, blueberry-sized fruit, around $11 for a whole one. I opted for slice of sweet potato, which, for the record, was about the best sweet potato pie I've had in L.A. Sort of shortbread crust, didn't have that slimy-canned mouth-feel. Mmm.

                1. re: cant talk...eating

                  speaking of berries, wouldn't boysenberry be an indigenous berry then?

                  1. re: justagthing

                    Good point - boysenberry no (it's a hybrid btwn. raspberry and blackberry), but we have at least one native blackberry found in riverbottom areas and around seeps in the hills. Nettles are also popping up on menus, and we have a couple native ones (careful of stingers though).

                  2. re: cant talk...eating

                    The gooseberry pie at Dupar's is better than nothing, if you're a gooseberry freak (as I am), but I found it much too gluey and much too sweet, as I tend to do with all their pies.

                    Gooseberries can't be grown here, at least not naturally. The shrub will thrive just fine, but it requires a significant amount of winter time at 30º or less to set its fruit, and that's a tad hard to come by in these parts.

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      Just to clarify - the greenish gooseberry of pies, jams, etc. is a European species; we have lots of native gooseberries (Ribes sp.) in our hills; I just mentioned the pie as an approximation of what was probably an important indigenous food.

                  3. re: choctastic

                    We used to do as kids in the 60s. Parents never considered the toxins. Oh well. Still here.

                  4. re: mrpeccator

                    I've always been frustrated in my search for Native American food. Beyond Indian Bread, there seems to be nothing...and I've searched on reservations and at Indian PowWows (Indian Taco? C'mon.).

                2. Some native cultures and their foods in the link below:


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: RicRios

                    Dungeness Crab

                    One of the best TG meals I have ever had!

                  2. Acorns were a major food source for many So Cal native-Americans.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: bulavinaka

                      I fondly and vivdly remember the “acorn lesson” in elementary school. I guess you could just roast them “over an open fire”… ? Oh, wait those are chestnuts! Here are some acorn flour recipes-
                      But where do you find acorn flour for sale in LA/OC? (from what I have read and remember from that lesson a pretty arduous process to meal) . This old link mentions Koreatown
                      I also found this related link, but you need to wade through it to find applicable to Southern Ca.
                      I would love to hear what you come up with…

                      1. re: LaLa Eat

                        Oh man, I remember the acorn lesson too! I remember being fascinated by the pounding and then we put the meal in the toilet tank (not bowl) to wash out the bitterness before making acorn meal.

                        I love being an OC gal.

                        1. re: LaLa Eat

                          Acorn flour is available in Korean supermarkets. In Tustin, check out Freshia.

                      2. If you're talking about what the early Chumash Indians, who were the largest group in the area up and down the coast, the diet was mostly acorns, which were leached to take off the bitter flavor. Wild game, wild grains and, of course, food from the ocean, complete the Chumash diet. The Chumash would bake in clay ovens using the flours frm the grains and acrons, but they didn't cultivate the land much, relying mostly on gathering. Later the Spaniards introduced citrus and an abundance of crops in addition to cattle. Of course, the question, to me, is always what snapshot of time is considered "native" as everyone came from somewhere. But one thing to remember about any early Southern California foods is that they would tend to be more focused on seafood and wild game since the land has always been semi-arid.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Fuser

                          Nice reply! That was informative! Thank you.