Doyle's Fish & Hicky Bar

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Making Acorn Bread and Not How the Indians Did It


 My daughter asked if I would like to take a foraging class with her here in Houston.    We had spoke of it before and thought it would be a cool father/daughter thing.   Her only touch on foraging had been hunting dew berries across the road from my mechanic shop when she was younger.    She's over 30 now and to this day we talk about when the berries will be ready every spring.    We may or may not pick any, but we are aware they are there for the picking.
      My foraging background is basically what Dad taught us boys about the surrounding woods in NE Texas.    We could identify and eat most berries and wild fruit but really not much beyond Poke Salad and what we called Sour Weeds for anything else.    I come from a family of hunters and farmers as most people did in my neck of the woods so you had to know a bit just to get along.   As for wild plantlife, you learned quickly what Poison Ivy and Bull Nettle was.   Nothing is much worse than running through Bull Nettle in short legged pants.   Do it once and you won't forget.   Ever.
     She even paid my way, (I love having grown kids!) and we showed up and listened to  Doc Merriweather.    A rapid fire speaker with way more knowledge than he could impart in the few hours he spoke to us.    Like most things it was just a taste of the free food nature has for us and he opened our eyes to this manna from heaven virtually at our very feet wherever we walked.  This guy showed us 30 sources of food within 50 steps of the building!
     I was on fire to find something growing in the wild and eat it!

     I looked and looked and studied the finds on the internet and remembered the words of our teacher.   "This shaped leaf means its good for you, while this shaped leaf means its poison and will likely make you very sick or even kill you."
For some reason I couldn't rid myself of that KILL remark about  ingesting the wrong stuff.    I was and still am pretty reserved about eating something I don't know what is exactly.    That's why running up on this overburdened oak tree was such perfect timing.    I KNOW what an oak is at least.
     I was walking my pups with my bride Sandi when I brushed through some oak branches and all these acorns fell on me.    I whipped my baseball cap off and started loading them up right off the limbs overhead.   The nuts literally fell right out into my hat.   It took just a few minutes to fill my cap up to where I couldn't carry anymore.    I wasn't picky either and realize now I should be more so.    Any acorns with little holes in them, just throw away right there cause they have worms in them.    I know Doc Merriwether says they are edible but unless Im starving I will pass.   Plus don't keep the little ones.   Only keep the biggest fattest ones you can find.   They are the easiest to shell and have the most acorn nut meat for your labor.

     When I got the pups back in the house I went online looking for acorn recipes.   It seems that the Indians would gather and dry and pound the seeds, wash or leach them in a creek,  then cook them on flat rocks over a fire.   I decided to update that a bit.  
     I found several recipes and kind of made my own up on the fly.     I went back into the kitchen and dried the acorns in the oven for about an hour at 150 degrees in a flat cookie pan.    I think I was a bit too hot and will do the next batch at 125.   Some of the kernels were pretty hard and dried out.    I let them cool off and then got a pair of pliers and began cracking the shells and extracting the nut meat.    It took awhile as I watched tv that night.   In fact I didn't finish all of it.    I took it back up the next evening and finished shelling the acorns.     By this time my nuts had gotten pretty hard.    I wrapped them in a towel and pounded them with a hammer to soften them up again.   I made crumblies out of them.   My experiment made about a cup and a half to 2 cups of nuts when shelled.

     I got a 2 qt pot out and filled it half way with water and got it to boiling.    When the water was at a rolling boil I dumped the nuts in and turned off the heat.     I let that sit for about 30 minutes.   Note the water was nasty looking brownish.    I didn't think to taste it.   I understand the water is good for washing clothes though they may begin to be acorn colored.   0.o     I will pass on that for now.
    Then I took the pan over, drained and rinsed and tasted a nut.    I could still taste the bitter tannic acid  in the acorn.   I drained the nuts through a paper coffee filter.
     I filled the pan back up with fresh water and got it to boiling again.   Threw in the rinsed nuts and turned the heat off.     At the end of 30 minutes  I drained, rinsed and tasted again.   NO TANNIC ACID.   The acorn was actually pretty good to eat at that point by themselves.   They were just getting soft.
     I laid the nuts out on a cutting board and tried to mash them.   Nothing really worked very well.   Finally I got a food chopper out and chopped the nuts to a corn meal consistency.
I threw them into a mixing bowl.    Then I covered them with plain white flour and mixed around until each crumbly was covered.   I then blended in one egg.

  It was pretty gritty looking.    I then mixed in about 1/3 cup of maple syrup.    Finally just a touch of water to smooth it out.   Might use milk in the future though.
Hey, even the Indians would've added a sweetner if they had it.    At this point I realize now I could have added raisins, sugar, berries, etc.    I prefer it sweet.   Or at least sweeter than this batch was.
     I oiled up a cast iron skillet and then pushed the mixture into it.   I flattened it out with my hands.  Looked like kind of a wet cement, mud pie sort of thing.

  I prewarmed the oven to 350 at Merriwether's suggestion and cooked my acorn bread for 30 minutes or until a toothpick came out dry.
     I pulled it out of the oven and wondered how to get it out of the pan.    Sandi said turn it over like cornbread and just plop it out.    That's exactly what I did and wallah! It was a perfectly beautiful little flat bread. 

 I pulled a tiny bit of it off and popped it in my mouth.     Nutty with a hint of oak.
     Im not kidding either.    I promptly got some butter out and smeared it on top and chomped away.  Not bad at all.   I will increase the sweetness for the next batch.    It is a bit dry.   Will have to figure a way to add moisture.    Perfect with wine.    But isn't everything?

     Thank You Dr. Merriwether for convincing me that I could do this.    That I could reconnect with my ancient human family.   Gosh they weren't just neanderthals after all.   Thanks again for the push I needed to see manna from heaven all around me. 
We are surrounded by God's gifts and have only to open our eyes to find them.