Monday, October 4, 2010

Acorn Bread

So, I had two cups of shelled acorns. I neglected to get a photograph of them, in part because acorn oxidizes a bit once it is out of the shell, so those beautiful ivory nut meats didn't look so photogenic. Perhaps I should have put them into a bowl of water as I shelled. Oh well.

I needed two cups in order to make acorn bread according to this recipe. So, following the recipe, I boiled the acorns in several changes of water. This is to remove the tannins which cause the bitter flavor. Sure enough, the nuts turned the water a murky brown. By the fifth boil, amazingly enough, those ivory nuts were still turning the water brown, but the nuts themselves were quite tasteless.

These are the soft, boiled acorns, and some of the brown water they produced in the first boiling. That brown water is reputed to have a healing effect on poison ivy rashes. It can be used to dye cloth, if another chemical is used to make the color permanent; and it can be used to wash clothes, if you don't mind them becoming a little brown in the process.

I must at this point mention that I am pregnant, and as such, my senses of taste and smell are both a bit wonky. The odor of boiling acorn didn't sit well with me. It smelled, to me, like a rotted, wet chunk of old stump, mushrooms and all, had been put in a pot and boiled. It wasn't a fecal smell, or a rotting flesh smell, but neither was it an appetizing food smell. But I can't trust my sense of smell right now, so I stuck with it.

Chris said it smelled better than the time I boiled a dessicated pigeon head, which isn't the most glowing of recommendations. He has a keen nose, so it just may be that this process is a little smelly.

I stuck the nuts in the refrigerator, poured out the stinky water, and called it a night.

I had mentioned in the previous post that the best nut meats came from germinating acorns. The drawback of these, however, was that the inner shell had a tendency to cling to the nut. This inner shell floated loose during the boilings. I had intended to pick it out, but I forgot, and into the fridge it went. Then, oops again, I chopped it up along with the nuts. Drat.

Oh well. These are the chopped nuts. I didn't have a good means of grinding them, but a knife worked reasonably well.

I'm sorry to say, but the resulting stuff looked a lot like wet catfood. But thankfully, unlike catfood, it had no smell, and not much taste, either. The tastelessness concerned me until I realized that most staple foods are unremarkable on their own.

Hoping for the best, I loaded up all of the ingredients and gave them a good stir. It made a nice, sticky dough. And as it baked, it smelled good! What a relief.

The moment of truth: it smelled delicious, and looked beautiful. We were starting to run late for our Sunday dinner gathering. I rolled the loaf out of the pan, and disaster! The top of the bread came off, exposing the middle, which was still gooey. I rolled the top of the loaf back into the pan and popped the pan back in the oven. But not before breaking off a corner for us to taste.

Yum! Just the right amount of crust on the top; moist and soft underneath. No overwhelming flavors at all; just a mild nuttiness and a subtle sweetness from the maple syrup. All three of us liked it.

But ugh; the last fifteen minutes in the oven overcooked the loaf. The final product was tougher, heavier, and more dry. Either it caused the large nutmeats to harden, or the inner husks toughened up, because every few bites there was something unpleasantly crunchy in the bread. And once again I could smell a shadow of that boiled stump aroma.

Of the dozen people who tasted it, I was the worst critic. Some of them may have been just being polite, but more than one person went back for seconds.

I am sure that the flaws in this batch of bread are due to my cooking, and not to the fact that I was cooking with an ingredient that most people in our culture think of as squirrel food. I believe that with experimentation and refinement, there is quite the culinary treat to be had with acorns. Too bad I didn't get it right on my first try, because it will be a while before I have both the desire and the ingredients to do it again.


Maureen said...

Wow - who knew! With the abundance of acorns this year you could be a wealthy woman with your recipe!

Steve Sherlock said...

I loved the photos in the first part of this as you were working to shell the acorns. I am glad you did persist in baking because it did catch my interest. There is a whole lot of work to this process though much more than I think most folks would attempt. Thanks for sharing!

hero爺 said...

This is Acorn Bread I have not heard of before.
But it looks like delicious.
I want to eat it.

You must be a ancient lady!

Anonymous said...

Looks so yummy. I love nut breads, but not sure about getting them out of the shell. I am with Steve...loads of work. Glad you showed the process.

Karen said...

Wow, that was a LOT of work! My MIL grinds her own wheat flour from their home-grown wheat, so she will be thrilled to read this post. The bread sure looked delicious, and I'm sure you were your harshest critic. I don't know too many people who would attempt this at all, so you should be proud. I'm looking forward to your next adventure!

Pam J. said...

Yum...."boiled stump aroma." I'm glad you made the bread but I think I'll pass.

Michelle said...

Maureen - I don't think I could make minimum wage with all the work this took. :D

Steve - Thanks! I may have to experiment more with wild edibles more. Documenting it made the work worthwhile.

Hero - did you know that acorns were once eaten in Japan, too?

GardenWalk - the nifty thing about acorns is that they are quite soft-shelled and easy to open compared to other nuts.

Karen - thank you! A friend's mother made pancakes for me once from whole wheat kernels ground in a blender. If it weren't for the five minutes of gawdawful blender noise involved, I would totally do it myself. Good for your MIL!

Pam - :D Sorry I put you off of the idea!