Focus on the circle
Barbara “Eagle Woman” Kolander keeps the home fires burning at the Rim of the World
By Christopher Nyerges 02/25/2010
Barbara Kolander grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and now lives at the Rim of the World, just south of Lake Arrowhead. She has lived in the San Bernardino Mountains for the past 21 years, where she now home-schools her youngest daughter. Along with her daughter, Kolander, who is part Osage on her mother’s side, also teaches classes in Native American skills every two to three weeks, except during the winter.
Named Wanbliwin (Eagle Woman) by her grandmother, Kolander conducts classes in survival skills, nature crafts and identifying and cooking wild foods — her favorite the processing of acorns, which drop from the oak trees every autumn.
“During the acorn workshops, we go out and first identify the oak trees. Many people don’t know that acorns come from oak trees, or know how to identify oaks,” says Kolander. “So we show people how to recognize the oak tree and acorns and we collect them and bring them back to our camp, or to my home, where we often have these workshops due to the large number of oaks in my yard.”
Kolander explains that her students begin by shelling the acorns, which is probably the most time-consuming part of the procedure. “While students are shelling the acorns, I tell students that oak trees are found worldwide and that all acorns are edible. I explain the many ways in which acorns can be processed.”
Though there are many ways to do this, the two main methods are cold water soakings, which can take several weeks to rid the nuts of bitter tannic acid, and the hot water method, which typically involves simple boiling and changing the water several times until the tannic acid is completely leached out. This technique usually renders acorns edible in about an hour.
“I prefer the cold water method,” says Kolander, “because this method produces a more flavorful acorn product, and one that is more nutritious.”
Once the acorns are leached, Kolander usually grinds them to flour in her two-horsepower VitaMix food processor, or by hand in the stone molchajete. The flour is then used in recipes, or dried for later use.
“Typically at my classes, I will bring acorns that are in various stages of being processed, and I encourage students to bring acorns they have collected,” she explains. This is because the entire process is very time-consuming, and she wants her students to experience the whole procedure and still be able to cook and taste the final products.
What sort of products does she make in her classes?
“We make acorn pancakes and muffins, and we explain that acorn flour can be used in nearly any recipe that calls for flour. We generally mix the acorn flour half and half with whole wheat flour,” explains Kolander. “But depending on the item being made, you can use anywhere from 10 to 100 percent acorn flour. We made some acorn pound cake this year that was absolutely delicious.”
During Kolander’s wild-food walks in autumn, students might also collect the berries from manzanita bushes. “We grind the manzanita seeds into a flour and add this into various food items,” she said.
Manzanita berries (which are like little apples) make a great trail snack, Kolander explains — they seem to slake a person’s thirst when sucked on.
During her classes, Kolander shows the local Native American grinding rocks and explains how they were used for grinding acorns or manzanita berries.
On some walks, they will see such plants as miner’s lettuce, chickweed, lambs quarter, and other plants that will make a wild salad or cook well into a wild stew. Sometimes they find a plant called Indian grass, which was used for weaving mats by the Serrano Indians.
People hear about Kolander’s programs by word-of-mouth through the close-knit mountain community, home school groups and through the Internet. She finds people are drawn to her classes for diverse reasons: some are worried about the economy, some about the “end of the world,” some are interested in Native American skills and others are into it purely for health or ecological reasons. Many simply enjoy getting out in nature and meeting other like-minded people.
Kolander sometimes conducts women’s workshops (called the Wisdom of the Grandmothers). This year she invited a special guest who meets yearly with the grandmothers of various indigenous tribes.
“The message this year from the elders is to focus on community and family and to work to keep the circle alive,” says Kolander. “We encourage the women to support each other and to maintain love and communication and to [meet and] gather regularly in
a circle [such as dinner time]. There is a lot of focus
on the circle. Additionally, our guest reminded us of how women have always shared a unique bond and play a crucial role in maintaining family and community relations.”
Contact Barbara Kolander at (909) 337-1481 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nyerges is the author of “Self-Sufficient Home” and other books, the editor of Wilderness Way magazine, and a teacher of survival skills. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, Calif., 90041, or christophernyerges.com.