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.

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