Thursday, October 28, 2010

Acorns, Cattails, and another person crossed off the list

Worked out in the woods today.  We hiked four miles, maybe five.  During that time we came across a pond filled with cattails.  Just last weekend the kids and I picked some and ate them.  I was really excited to see these and I asked the person I was working with if he'd ever tried cattails.  He responded, weren't they mentioned in the book My Side of the Mountain about the kid who ran away and ate cattails?  I said yes.  I then pulled up a stalk, showed him the part that you peeled and could eat raw.  He said that would be great for when the world falls apart and we all become hunters and gatherers.  Of course, he was snickering.  Cross him off the list...

He then wanted to know if I've eaten acorn mush.  Yes, it's sort of a required experience for people in my line of work.  I don't like it though, but I do know how to process it and eat it.  I'll eat acorn bread, pancakes, or make it into a tortilla rather than plain mush.  The Indians used a lot of salt to season the mush, they didn't like it plain either. 

Acorns should be a staple storage item for people who live near oak trees.  A mature oak can produce hundreds of pounds of acorns a year.  There is a process required to remove the tannin from the acorns.  There are people who say you can just eat them plain but I wouldn't suggest it.  Although you may like the flavor they really need to be leached or you'll get sick. 

I will mention a couple of ways to get rid of the tannins.  First is to grind the acorns, then to put them into a colander lined with muslin.  The Indians would make a shallow depression in the sand along a creek, line the bottom with leaves such as thimbleberry, put in the ground acorns, then slowly pour water over them.  Another way is to soak them in water and change the soaking water several times a day for about a week.  I have made them this way, in fact, I have ground them in the bedrock mortars that were originally used by native women here in California. 

The second way is to leach them whole.  This works if you have a creek or some continuous water flow since it will take longer to leach them whole.  Leaching them whole is good if you want to eat them like nuts. 

A third way is to boil them to get rid of the tannins.  This is quickest if you do it right.  If not done right, or if you do it right but it just doesn't work out this time, you actually bind the tannins to the acorns and ruin the whole batch. 

After you leach the acorns they need to be dried, whether in meal or whole nut form.  They can be dried outside or in the oven.

A fourth way the Indians processed them is to bury them in a wet muddy hole in the ground and a year or so later dig them up.  They will be black and disgusting looking, but this way is supposedly good for roasting.  I don't know, I haven't tried it that way. 

Right now is about the end of acorn gathering season so pick some and try your hand at processing acorns.

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