Foods Past

Ohlones and Miwoks enjoyed dozens of plant and animal foods, including roasted, steamed, and jerked elk, antelope, and deer meat, and fish and shellfish. Now-rare native food plants once proliferated under Ohlone and Miwok land management practices. These included the regenerative effects of prescribed burning and cultivation through the well-timed and practiced digging of mature bulbs, tubers, corms, and taproots. Other plant foods included steamed fern fiddlenecks, fresh and dried fruits, leafy greens, native celeries, nuts, pollens, and carbohydrate-rich seeds and acorns. 

“My mother used to tell us food is to be handled with respect and cleanliness.”

—Ruth Orta

Recent Foods, 1939-1950s

Reflective of her self-sufficient times, Trina Marine Ruano canned apricots, cherries, and peaches from her own trees, and pears obtained in Milipitas during visits to Ruth’s Sanchez cousins. Trina also canned nopales (prickly pear cactus). She gathered these with her children on a hillside near Sunol. Trina likewise canned her garden produce, turning these into pickles, pickled vegetables with chili peppers, jams, jellies, and tomato sauce. Trina’s granddaughter Roberta continues the family canning tradition.

“Growing up, I remember my mother being in her vegetable garden. She raised rabbits and chickens. We even had goats and ducks.”

  —Ruth Orta

Mexican Cuisine

Spanish, Mexican, and early Euro-American colonization brought considerable changes to the foods made and enjoyed by Ohlones and Miwoks. Ruth’s own home-cooked family meals largely consisted of Mexican foods. These included chile verde and colorado, pinto and pink beans, Spanish rice, pasta with tomato sauce and onions, flour tortillas, burritos (called “tacos” by the family), and menudo, all minus the sour cream and chocolate mole of “California-ized” versions. Today, tamales made with homemade masa and meat fillings grace many family tables during special events, the cornhusks now store bought.

Learning Mexican Cooking

Ruth’s mother Trina Marine Ruano learned Mexican cooking in her early thirties from her Godmother Margaret Peña (Ohlone and Delta Yokuts). Ruth, in turn, learned Mexican cooking from her mother, who she followed into the kitchen from age six. Ruth later added enchiladas to her repertoire, as learned from her mother-in-law.

Ruth made tortillas daily for her husband, since he would only take burritos to work, never sandwiches. When a Tortilla Factory opened near Ruth’s Newark home, she declared, “I’m done!” And she was!