Nuts about acorns

  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:

 

Acorn muffins:

 

Wet ingredients:

1 beaten egg

1 cup milk

2 tbsp vegetable oil

¼ cup of honey

¼ cup of molasses

1 tsp. vanilla

 

Dry ingredients:

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.

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4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Cindy said,

    Martha Troxel of Cedar Rapids sent me the following email:

    I thought you would find it interesting that although we have 5 oak
    trees, we have seen no acorns this year!

  2. 2

    Amy said,

    It is October 20 on the North Shore in Massachusetts, and we have tons of oak trees in our yard, but hardly any acorns! Usually we are serenaded by the constant plippity plop of them hitting the house, and the driveway and lawn would be littered with them making walking hazardous! Could an unusually cool and rainy summer have something to do with this? Never mind the acorn muffins, I feel bad for our fellow squirrels!! I’ve never seen anything quite like this in my 7+ years of living here!

  3. 3

    Acorn production has been erratic this year. Some areas have a sparse to non-existent crop and other areas have regions of high oak productivity and within a few miles trees with few or no acorns.

    Hunters in the Midwest have notices that squirrel populations are off. Biologists speculate that this is because of our very intense winter and heavy spring rains.

    But, keep your eye to the future for a heavy mast season. And, remember, too, that acorns were an important food for Native Americans, as well as the varied wildlife (birds and mammals) they depended on.

  4. 4

    walter simons said,

    I to have a orchard of acorns i picked a 5 gallon bucket in 30 minutes just from one tree is their a way to make money at this besides bait


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