Marion Patterson learned foraging skills from her parents while growing up in New Hampshire. She’s carried on some of those traditions in Cedar Rapids, where she and her husband, Rich Patterson – director of the Indian Creek Nature Center – reside.
With abundant oak trees on their property, the Pattersons have put their acorns to use in recipes that Marion brought from her parents, Yvonne and Les Fellows, to whom credit for the following recipes go.
First, the acorns must be processed. Marion notes that with acorns from white oaks, especially, the acorns must be gathered shortly after they’ve fallen. Wait a week or more and the acorns will already be sprouting or will have a worm-like insect in them. (She described acorns from red oaks as a pain in the neck – smaller and more bitter than other varieties – so white, burr or chestnut oak acorns are preferable.) If you cannot process them right away, they need to be stored in the freezer until you can work with them.
Slice the acorns in half to get to the “meat” inside. Marion uses pruning shears to slice the acorns open, but welcomes any advice from others who may use a better method. Use a nutpick to pry the meat out of the shell. “This is not for the faint-hearted,” she notes.
Put the nut meats in boiling water and keep pouring out and changing the water. Marion does this four to five times per batch “until I get tired of it,” she says. Boil about 15 minutes; drain off the water; add new water; boil another 15 minutes and so on. Drain last time and then…
Spread the nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet, preferably one with edges. Place in a low-heat oven, set at 225 degrees, and flip or stir every 15 to 20 minutes. Do this for 2-3 hours. “The important thing is that they are dry,” Marion says. Take the pan out, and leave out overnight, uncovered, to cool. The nut meats can be stored at room temperature in a glass jar with a lid for a long time – “indefinitely,” Marion says. Don’t try to eat them as nuts as they’ll break your teeth, she adds. The nuts could be used in stews, which softens the kernels.
To use them in other recipes, use a meat grinder or flour grinder, not a blender, to process into flour. The flour looks a bit like sand – an earthy brown color. Don’t directly substitute the flour for white flour in recipes, as the acorn flour is heavier and has a more intense flavor. Plus, you’d quickly go through the small batch that comes from that long and hard acorn processing. For recipes that call for 2 cups of flour, such as quick bread recipes, Marion uses 1/4th cup of acorn flour and mixes it with other types of flour.
Here are two of the recipes that came from Marion’s parents:
1 beaten egg
1 cup milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
¼ cup of honey
¼ cup of molasses
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ cup sugar
1&3/4 cup of flour
¼ cup acorn flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
Mix wet and dry ingredients separately, then mix together gently until just moist. Lumps are OK. Grease muffin tins. Fill 2/3 full. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm with honey and butter.
Boston Steamed Brown Bread
(A staple of Saturday night suppers in New England – best served with hot dogs and baked beans.)
1&1/2 cup wheat flour
1&1/4 cup white flour
¼ cup acorn flour
¾ tsp baking soda
2&1/2 tsp baking powder
1&1/2 tsp salt (or less)
¾ cup molasses
1 cup water
¾ cup milk
Raisins, if desired
Mix ingredients. Grease 16-ounce metal can (emptied from soup, etc.) Put aluminum foil over each can, with rubber band or tie around each. This batch makes about 4 cans. Marion uses her pressure cooker with water she’s boiled from a tea pot. Water should go about halfway up the cans. Place on stovetop with lid on and keep at a low heat for 2-3 hours. You could also use a large pot with a good lid. Water should be boiling at first, but then reduce heat and steam for 2-3 hours.