Native American Heritage Month – Pinenutting

November is Native American Heritage Month, so we’ll be highlighting some pieces of Paiute material culture we have on display all month long. First, we have some of our pinenutting equipment. Pine nuts were one of the most important food sources for countless bands throughout the Great Basin. However, processing pine nuts was (and still is, even with modern machinery!) a long and complex task.

Black and white photo of a Paiute woman in a white dress in profile. She has a large conical basket strapped to her back with a leather strap going around her forehead. She also holds a wide, narrow basket and has a water jug sitting beside her. Identified as Josie of the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe, ca 1900.

Historically, men would reach into pinion pine trees with tall sticks and knock the pine cones loose. Women would then gather the pine cones in burden baskets like the one in this picture (the one we have on display at CCM is much too small to be practical)

Next, the nuts have to be removed from the cones and their shells cracked. They were then winnowed, much like grain. Winnowing baskets have wide spaces, which allow chunks of shell to fall through.

Black and white photo of a paiute woman in a calico dress, probably Alice Steve, kneeling and shaking a winnowing basket
Black and white photo of a Paiute Woman, Wuzzie George, shaking a winnowing basket. Note the large white coals mixed in with the nuts.

Though willow branches are flammable, by shaking the baskets quickly, a skilled cook could easily roast pine nuts in her basket without burning it! Heat came from coals pulled from a fire. It would take several rounds of roasting for the pine nuts to be cooked.

While you can eat roasted pine nuts like any other nut, most of the time the pine nuts were ground into flour with a mano and metate. This flour was then mixed with water to create a porridge-like soup. Pine nut soup appears in many legends and oral histories as a primary staple. It was even used as baby formula.

Black and white photo of a Paiute woman in a calico dress, Wuzzie George, grinding pine nuts by hand. A winnowing basket full of roasted nuts sits next to her.

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