Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Celebrating Oaks - Acorn Bread

Late fall is a fine time to admire the oaks, gnarly and statuesque. But we can go a step further and make a few loaves of acorn bread.

Just to say the words, "acorn bread," conjures images of ..... what? The smell of burnt nuts wafting through the kitchen?

I was at a Sukkoth party—the Jewish celebration of the harvest, and more generally, a celebration of impermanence. I was standing on an enclosed deck, with ears of corn and oddly shaped lemons hanging here and there, and the subject of acorns naturally came up.

"I think I'm going to make some acorn bread," I said. My friend said, "Why?"

I told him that years ago, when I was in high school and Euell Gibbons, author of Stalking the Wild Asparagus, was what we would now call a "cutural icon," I'd made some.

"What were you smoking?" he replied.

In those days, foraging had nothing to do with gourmet restaurants. It had to do with survival, or at any rate with establishing a few fundamental connections with the earth.

Acorns are edible. Why not eat some?

My experiment decades ago was a partial failure, which I attributed to the mediocrity of the cast iron, hand-cranked coffee grinder I'd used to make the acorn  meal. It simply didn't grind things very well. Yet the odd taste of the bread had its own character, and I recently became curious—don't ask me why—to see if a better loaf could be produced with an electric coffee-grinder.

Finding decent acorns proved to be more difficult than I'd imagined. But on a biking trip with friends to Little Falls, Hilary came upon a wonderful cache of fresh, clean nuts. We gathered together four or five cups of them in a few minutes. Then the real work began.

To make acorn bread you first need to shell the acorns, of course. This takes quite a bit of time.

Then you boil them for two hours, changing the water every ten minutes but without losing the boil. This is to remove the tannins.

At this point you bake the nuts for a while to dry them out again.

Then you grind them into meal. We used a food processor, which worked quite well.

Finally, you mix the meal with regular flour and bake some bread. (We also made some muffins.)

Hot from the oven and slathered with butter, the bread tasted a lot like the loaf I made forty years ago. Perhaps the best word to describe it would be "interesting."

A different taste. Not bad. Really. Not that bad at all.

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