A big welcome back to The Raven, a Booth favorite who retired a few months back. We are happy to have her back for a guest post and hope to hear her voice here from time to time. She posts periodically at her personal blog, The Purloined Letter as well.
Inspired by Euell Gibbons Stalking The Wild Asparagus, we recently harvested acorns.
Actually, we planned to try foraging for acorns last year, but we were foiled by last fall's unexpected and troubling lack of acorns of all types.
David and our son Abraham went out foraging on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Having no oak trees in our own small yard was not a problem. Our neighborhood was full of acorns ripe for the picking—that is, the picking up off the ground. They set out with good intentions to harvest only acorns from white oaks, trees identifiable by their rounded leaves and bearing nuts supposed to be sweeter. But my family members were not the botanists they thought they were and wound up collecting from many oak trees. (All kinds of acorns are edible.) They broke open a few as they collected and sampled them for bitterness but came to no conclusions about which might be tastiest. As they walked the streets, many folks stopped them, curious and full of questions. David and Abraham were invited by strangers into their yards to collect nuts. They ended up bringing home acorns of many sizes from a variety of trees.
While we have read that some people leave their acorns out to dry before cracking them, we were too excited and curious to wait. We sorted through the haul and discarded the few acorns with small round holes signaling that worms got them first. We then spent the rest of the afternoon listening to a book on tape while cracking acorns and removing the yellow meats into a bowl.
By the time we were finished, it was getting late. We put the shelled acorn meats in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Due to a very busy week, we did not have time to continue processing them until the next weekend.
On the following Saturday afternoon, we pulled out David’s grandmother’s wooden bowl and mezzaluna and chopped the acorn meats into a coarse meal. Foragers without mezzalunas could pulse the meats in a food processor.
All acorns contain tannins, some more than others. The tannins must be leached out of the acorns to make the meal palatable. While we’ve heard that there are acorns in the West that are sweet, many East Coast varieties are high in tannins and quite bitter until they are leached.
We leached our acorns by tying the meal in a cheesecloth and then immersing it in a large saucepan of boiling water. The water instantly turned tea-colored. We let it simmer for another ten minutes, then poured off the brown water and replaced it with fresh water and set the pan back on the stove. After another thirty minutes, we drained and repeated. We continued this leaching process five or six times until the draining water was only lightly colored and the acorns were sweet enough to eat. We could have done more soaks, but it was getting close to bedtime. (Although we discarded the leaching water, we have since learned that the tannin water can be useful.)
When we were finished leaching, we squeezed out as much water as possible from the bag of meal. We then spread the meal on a tray and put it in our dehydrator overnight. Other cooks could put the meal on a cookie sheet in a very low oven for an hour or so, or leave it overnight in an oven with the light on.
As an experiment, we didn’t chop a dozen acorns that we had managed to remove intact from their shells. We planned to make "acorn glace" from Stalking The Wild Asparagus. We leached the whole acorns in the boiling water (using the same process that we followed with the meal but without the cheesecloth). After fishing the nuts out and letting them dry on a plate, we roasted them in a hot oven (400 degrees) for twenty minutes or so until they were dry and toasty. We then dropped the toasted nuts into a warm simple syrup solution (1 pt water and 2 pt sugar gently boiled), let them stew for a few moments, then let them dry.
Expecting a sweet bedtime treat, we bit into the beautifully glistening acorn glace—and our mouths turned inside out. The smaller acorns were bad, but the large ones were horrendous. No amount of sugar could cover up their intense bitterness. Clearly, we had not leached the tannins out of the whole acorns nearly enough. (I would love to hear if anyone else has tried to produce this “treat” and had any better luck than we had!)
When we took the trays of meal out of the dehydrator the next morning, the warm acorn meal had a sweet and nutty aroma. It now had only a very slight bitterness, about as much as black tea. We put the dried meal in our hand-cranked grain mill. If you don’t have a mill, you could use a food processor to grind the meal into flour.
Because it is a fresh whole flour, acorn flour does not keep for very long. If you want to hold it for a few days, put the flour in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Using advice from an online recipe from a favorite knitting blog as our inspiration, we riffed a variation recipe for acorn pancakes:
2½ cups whole wheat flour
¾ cup acorn
1 rounded TB baking powder
2 tsp salt
¼ cup oil (olive oil or coconut oil or whatever)
A small glug of maple syrup
Enough milk or water to make a batter the consistency of your favorite pancake batter (maybe 2 cups of liquid?)
David and Abraham mixed the batter together and had pancakes on the griddle by the time I came down for breakfast.
We served them with local maple syrup. They were delicious--with a slightly nutty, slightly earthy flavor.
We had so much fun that we are already collecting more acorns for our next feast. Next up: we’re going to try mixing acorn flour and our homegrown corn meal to make johnnycakes. We’ll let you know how it goes!