11.27.2019

EATING ACORNS // the local food report

Friends! Happy almost Thanksgiving. I'm thinking this year about perspective: historical, personal.  What shifts in our awareness can mean for our relationships with each other, with the past, with the living world around us. 


Recently I learned that acorns are edible. Edible! My whole life I've understood them to be poisonous, fit only for pigs or squirrels. I grew up surrounded by oak trees and live now in a forest almost exclusively of oaks. We have cleared oaks on our property to make way for "food," never realizing that they were already providing. I'd always seen the oak forest around us as prohibitive to farming, in the way of our ability to feed ourselves. It turns out this is simply one more part of the narrative our culture has constructed: that resources are scarce, that it's us against nature. The falsity of this story hits me often—but never in such a clear, practical way as it has through the acorn lens. It sounds strange to say it out loud, but there it is. It's been a huge shift.

I'm writing about this in other places—I'm working on a piece right now for Heated on our approach to agriculture, and my recent Local Food Reports have been focused on agro-forestry, and the ways we think about farming staple foods. I've been reading a lot, too—about our stories, and about new ways of looking at ourselves and our world. I wonder: what else are we not seeing in our search for confirmation bias? 




I just finished teaching an after school class on foraging at Sally's school, and for our final day we had a feast. I made two acorn-flour-laced dishes from nuts I'd gathered with the kids, and while I wasn't sure what they'd think of them, they came back for another helping again and again. 

If you want to try processing and eating acorns, I recommend first giving a listen to last week's Local Food Report. Like olives, acorns need a little processing before they're good to eat. (There's also an excellent how-to on The People's Path website.) Acorns are generally processed into either grits (more coarse) or flour (more fine). The recipes below call for one or the other. Also, acorns take longer than corn or other grains to release their starch, so be patient if you're making something like stew or pudding.

I hope tomorrow is filled with good food, gratitude, and love. And in the off chance you've either made or can get your hands on some acorn flour, here are a few dishes to ponder. What a crazy world of discovery and abundance. 

NEW ENGLAND ACORN COOPERATIVE PUDDING


EH note: This is so good! I had no idea what to expect but both in consistency and flavor it impressed me. Also, I eat everything, but if you've got gluten and dairy restrictions, it's a pudding-lover's dream! 

1 can whole coconut milk
2 free range eggs
1/3 cup sugar OR 1/4 cup honey (EH note: I used honey)
1/4 cup fresh local acorn flour
1 teaspoon vanilla bean past (EH note: I used vanilla extract, same amount)

Warm the coconut milk in a medium sized pot on the stovetop and stir in the sugar. When the sugar is thoroughly dissolved using medium heat, sprinkle in the acorn flour. Stir frequently until the mixture begins to slightly bubble. Set the timer for 5 minutes and continue stirring (eyeball it—acorn flour takes longer to thicken than other starches).

Beat the 2 eggs in a bowl. At the end of 5 minutes, remove the pot from the stove and slowly and thoroughly mix in 2 or 3 ladles of the mixture into the bowl with the beaten eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the pot and mix well. Put the pot back on the heat and stir until the mixture slightly bubbles again. Reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

Pour into dish (or bowls) to cool on the counter, then in fridge.


ACORN-FLOUR THICKENED BEEF STEW

I'm not going to type this one out here, as I found it on The People's Path website, and I want to make sure you go straight to the source. Scroll down past the processing instructions, past the venison stew, and to "Acorn Stew." Yum! Yum! Looking at the ingredients I thought, how could this possibly be good? Just beef and water and acorn flour? But it is so flavorful and has excellent texture. Highly recommended. Also, I think you could totally add some other veggies or greens once you've experimented a bit. After my success with this I tried thickening a regular-old beef pot roast with acorn flour at the end, and my family gave it rave reviews. It makes the broth into a kind of chicken-pot-pie like gravy, which around here is a major win. 


ACORN APPLE OAT BARS

EH note: This recipe is courtesy Jasmine Tanguay, who is a member of the New England Acorn Cooperative. I met her at a processing workshop and tasted these bars, which are excellent. The recipe makes 12 bars.

4 apples, thinly sliced (pears work great too)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup wheat flour
1 cup leached ground acorns (grits, meal, or flour)
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, melted

Remove the core and thinly slice apples. Place apple slices in a large bowl and mix in sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

In another bowl, combine flour, acorns, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and butter. Mix until crumbly. Line a large 9x12 or 9x13-inch baking dish with parchment paper and pour ⅔ of the oats mixture in the bottom of the pan, pressing firmly to pack it down. Pour fruit mixture over the crust and spread in an even layer. Pour the remaining oat mixture over the top and spread evenly.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.

11.12.2019

CRISPY KALE WITH SOBA NOODLES // elspeth


Do you also harbor obsessions with crispy kale and nutritional yeast? For a long time these were two distinct and separate hankerings for me. I've made crispy kale with soy sauce and olive oil and sriracha and sesame oil on repeat for years. And ever since my friend Kristen introduced me to the idea of nutritional yeast on popcorn, I have upped my popcorn intake 87 percent. Popcorn, my mother has long held, can be a meal. I am now a believer.

But the other day when I finally got around to drinking a paper plane on the couch and reading the September issue of Bon App├ętit (yesss thank you daylight savings), I discovered a recipe that combined crispy kale with nutritional yeast. And a tahini sesame sauce! And soba noodles! I haven't been so excited to cook something in ages. The next morning I reported to the grocery store directly after school drop off, bought all the ingredients, picked a last haul of kale from the garden, and made myself lunch at 10am. Alex happened to be working from home for the morning, and we ate soba noodles with crispy kale and nutritional yeast standing up at the kitchen counter in between phone calls and emails and loads of laundry. 



It was so good that I wanted to tell you about it right away, in case you also need a little hit of all things salty, crispy, and delicious. It doesn't feel right to type up the recipe here, since I haven't changed a thing. But if this sounds good to you, it's because it is, and I recommend you head on over to the BA original and make it without delay. 

11.05.2019

ALL IN ALL // Elspeth


Hi, friends. It's been a while. I'm not sure if I'm stopping by or if I'm back, but either way it's nice to say hello. Let's revel in that and see where it goes.

A lot's been happening around here. Our friends started a newspaper—yes, started!—and I've been writing for them about toxic algae blooms and blue marble librarians and a slew of other sobering-but-interesting things. They're on a mission to keep democracy alive with local journalism, and so far it's been an inspiring ride. You can check it out online: The Provincetown Independent.



I've also started freelancing for some other places—I wrote about food waste and making maple syrup for the Boston Globe and most recently tried to make people laugh over at Heated with the tale of the time Alex and I accidentally bought two pigs. (Spoiler alert: SAUSAGE!)

On the radio front my co-host Ali Berlow and I have spent some time with our fantastic editors over at Atlantic Public Media reimagining the scope of the Local Food Report. We'll still be reporting on that perfect tomato variety and foraging for cranberries, but we're also opening things up to talk more with people who are reimagining our food systems. We did our first piece in that vein a couple weeks ago with a farmer who wants to move away from annual crops and solve the climate crisis with trees. Some people reached out to say how much they loved it, and at least one person hated it. We'll see!

To try to hold all this in one space, I built a website over at elspethhay.com. It's where I'll be posting new pieces. Stop on by if you'd like to read.

Last but not least, I am (finally?) getting to work on a cookbook proposal. It's been something I've been tossing around for a long time, in different formats, but I am resolved, once and for all, to get down to it. So far it's been buoying, exciting, and reaffirming. I'm guessing at some point this will give way to frustration, but we're not there yet! Day by day. (Also, now you know. Accountability!)



Other things we have been doing a lot of include: getting in the car to go to a piece of land we bought in Maine (!), foraging in the woods and dunes for all manner of delightful things (blueberries, blackberries, apples, wintergreen, matsutakes, cranberries—frankly, I've been in awe, recently, of the abundance of this place), deep cleaning before the lull of wood-stove season sets in, gathering the last few things from the garden, and killing another few batches of meat chickens. I'm teaching a foraging class at the girls' school, which is the highlight of my week every week.

All in all, things are good and full.

And if you need something for right now—I've got a pot of this bubbling. It started as a way to use up a cut of meat I wasn't familiar with—a top round steak, which looked tough and lean. I've tasted the broth three times since I started writing, it is slowly turning into gravy, and the whole mess smells heavenly.

I hope you are well, and well-fed.

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