FRAZADO AND PISPIBATA: The Favored Delicacies of Early Californians, by Hubert Howe Bancroft, 1888

“An easy pastoral life was led by the Californians before the advent of Americans. They were great people to make visits to their friends and relatives, the whole family going and staying a week or a month. Sometimes fifty of these visitors would light upon a place together, and then the tortilla makers would have no rest night or day. Of a bullock slaughtered one morning there would not be enough left for breakfast on the following day. They for a long time entertained a prejudice against pork, and even refused to use lard in their cooking, confining themselves to beef fat. They thought pigs only fit to make soap of. Neither did they care to eat bear or sheep flesh; beef alone suited them, especially young cattle six or twelve months old.

When a beef was slaughtered the ribs were quickly bared of the hide and the frazada — the meat on the ribs — cut out. This was thrown on the coals with a sprinkling of salt, and when half cooked was eaten with a relish. Roast meat and milk was the usual food of rancheros, with cheese, asaderas, frijoles, and tortillas. But at feasts they could prepare many rich dishes. They were celebrated for the manufacture of sugared pastry; among these was azucarillos, a kind of white biscuit formed with crystalline sugar. It was melted in iced water and formed a delightful drink, sweet, with a delicate, aromatic flavor.

The California Indians had a drink, the pispibata, which was so strong and deleterious that the padres would not allow them use it. It was made of powdered calcined shells, wild tobacco juice and wild cherries, powdered, shaken and ground, water being added until its consistency was almost a solid. Sometimes maize or fruit of easy fermentation was used. It was a powerful decoction, equal to a mixture of rum, tobacco juice and opium — if one can imagine what that would be.

The horrible mixture prepared, the savages would seat themselves round it in the hot sun and dipping the forefinger into the mass would touch it to their tongue with a smack of satisfaction. When this had been done two or three times the participant fell back, dead drunk, or dead in fact if a little too much had been taken. During the lethargy, it is said, the moderate participant seemed to realize his most ardent hopes indulged in while awake, and that, though the body was paralyzed, the soul entered the realms of superlative happiness.”

-Excerpt courtesy of, The Topeka Mail, (Topeka, Kansas,) “Hubert Howe Bancroft’s California Pastoral,” Friday, May 4, 1888. Image courtesy of The Library of Congress, Chronicling America, The Weekly Argus, Friday, January 12, 1883

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