Monday, November 16, 2009

Apache Acorn Cakes

Live Oak Acorns

After my experience at the Earth Skills Rendezvous with gathering, preparing and then eating a mess of Chestnut Oak acorns I decided to give it a try here in South Florida. I’ve never seen a Chestnut Oak this far south so I knew that tree was off the list. What we do have in abundance is our very large and stately Live Oak trees. If I were to pick a favorite tree, here in Florida at least, it would be the Live Oak.  These majestic, and often moss-draped oaks, with their massive low hanging  branches just seem to scream...Deep South.

I’ve bit into acorns from several of the other seven members of the White Oak that are native to Florida and with the exception of the Live Oak the only other tree that didn’t have a very strong and bitter taste of tannin was the Bluejack Oak which is actually odd as it’s a member of the Red Oak family, known to be very bitter.  I don’t know if it’s a seasonal or location thing or not and I’ve only sampled a few acorns in a very small area but my taste test definitely ruled out everything but the Live Oak. I’m quite sure that prepared properly, and with many changes of water, any of the White Oak family acorns could be made edible.  We know that the Glades Indians that were native to this area relied heavily on acorns as a staple of their diet and I doubt that they totally shunned all but the Live Oak.

It did take me a bit of hiking around to locate a tree that had a bumper crop of acorns. I found a medium size tree growing on the edge of a large pasture that had acorns hanging on just about every branch and the ground under the tree had more than enough acorns that had dropped to fuel my small experiment. I picked up about two full cups from the ground and pulled off maybe a double handful from several of the low branches that I could reach.  It’s fairly easy to tell if the acorns that are still on the tree are ripe. If they fall out of their cup with just the lightest touch – they are ready. If you have to tug on them, just leave them. They’re not fully ripe yet. Another way is to shake the tree or branches. The ripe acorns will fall from the tree.

If you’re picking them off the ground just take the best looking nuts. Any that are black or that have any holes are either slightly rotten or may have a worm in them. Just as a side bar, in a true survival situation, or if you’re maybe just curious, the grubs in acorns are a good source of protein. I once ate a batch of them that had been stir fried in rabbit fat on a flat rock with just a touch of wild mint for flavoring. I found them to be very tasty but;  do consider this  – I was really hungry at the time. I’m talking wolfing down rabbit eyeballs wrapped in raw liver kind of hungry.

After getting home with what I hoped would be my dinner for the day I got started by first putting all the acorns into a medium size cook pot and bringing the water to a boil for about three minutes. I them poured the water off and let it cool down to room temperature. Using the pliers on my Leatherman Multitool I squeezed each nut until the hull split. The hot water bath made this very easy. I found that by squeezing from the  pointed ends with just a slight effort I could split the hulls just about in half. I then used the tip of my knife blade to pop the meat out. I ended up with about two cups of acorn nuts.

The next step was to chop the acorns into smaller pieces. I used my knife again much the same way one would dice vegetables. I then dumped the sliced and diced acorns bits into a clean change of water, set the burner to Medium heat and brought the water to a slow rolling boil. I maintained the slow boil for three minutes then poured off the now slightly tannic stained water, added a fresh change of water and repeated the boiling process another two times. At the end of the third boil I drained off all the water and did a taste test. As expected the acorns no longer tasted even the least bit bitter. They actually had a mild, musky, sort of mushroom taste. Not bad at all.

At this stage I set the acorns aside and let them dry overnight. The next day I used my coffee grinder and turned the small bits into something that closely resembled fine flour.

With just a second or two of web surfing I found this simple recipe for Apache Acorn Cakes:
1 cup acorn meal, ground fine
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup honey
pinch of salt

Mix the ingredients with enough warm water to make a moist, not sticky dough. Divide into 12 balls. Let rest, covered, for 10 minutes or so. With slightly moist hands, pat the balls down into thick tortilla-shaped breads. Bake on an ungreased cast iron griddle over campfire coals or on clean large rocks, propped up slightly before the coals. If using the stones, have them hot when you place the cakes on them. You’ll have to lightly peel an edge to peek and see if they are done. They will be slightly brown. Turn them over and bake on the other side, if necessary.

I followed the recipe to the letter except for the part about cooking over a campfire. I used the wife’s electric stove set to medium heat instead and lo-and-behold ; before you could skin your Granny’s Persian cat, I had real live Apache Corn Cakes; and – believe it or not, they were very tasty. I’m thinking  that ¼ of honey may have a lot to do with the good taste.  As soon as I find the time my next acorn project might be to take a stab at making some bread. A few more hours in the kitchen and I may have to think about wearing an apron and one of those funny white hats – not.

No comments:

Post a Comment