Marc Simmons: Food storage important to tribes

"In New Mexico's early-day history, one can find scattered references to the ways those who came before us preserved their food. Although quite interesting in itself, the subject appears to have caught the attention of only a few writers and scholars.

That's too bad, because successful food preservation was key to survival of Indian and Hispanic cultures in this drought-prone land. Taking even a brief look at this can deepen our appreciation of those long-ago New Mexicans who had to struggle to secure every mouthful of food.

A major problem for them was how to save the products of the annual harvest not immediately consumed. The prehistoric pueblos for centuries had resorted to deep circular pits to store corn, beans and the seeds of squash and of cotton, the latter being occasionally ground and eaten.

To cap the pit, a layer of mud was applied over the opening, so that drying it provided a tight seal for the contents. That was usually enough to keep out rodents and insects.

The colonists arriving with Oñate in 1598 were astonished to find, beginning in the Socorro Valley, the Pueblo Indians' bountiful fields, which allowed them to store up six or seven years' supply of corn. The surplus grain, they noted, was "preserved in the ear underground or in closed rooms like silos.""

Get the Story:
Marc Simmons: Trail Dust: Storing food an ancient art (The Santa Fe New Mexican 10/3)

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