Adventures in the Piedmont- Making Acorn Flour

So Sam and I wanted to make Acorn flour, because doing things like that makes us feel tough. It turns out, making acorn flour is hard. That’s proly why most people don’t do it. Heck, people don’t even eat the walnuts on their walnut trees, and you don’t even have to boil those in twenty-five changes of water to make them palatable.

I’m exaggerating. You don’t have to change the water 25 times. Unless, of course, you get acorns from a really bitter tree. Apparently, some oak trees make acorns that have more tannins than others, and the tannins are what make them bitter. Pointy-leafed trees are red oaks, rounded-leaf trees are white oaks- and according to the internet, white oaks generally have milder acorns. But you just kind of have to taste them. Wander around your neighborhood, tasting acorns. Some, apparently, will be milder than others.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you get a chance to taste an acorn, you actually have to find an oak tree that has acorns. Apparently, not all oak trees make acorns every year, and of the ones that do make acorns any given year, very few of them will make alot of acorns, like enough that you could harvest a whole bucket-full. Which brings to mind- what time of the year do you even look? Oh, you know- fall. Whatever that means! And make sure and get them off the ground before those little nutmeats get a fungus and turn black. Boy howdy!

Sam and I, as the resident hippie wingnut back-to-the-lander primitivist wannabes of the North Carolina Piedmont, might have pocketfuls of good intention, but when it comes down to it, we’re a couple of lazy Leroys. Or maybe I’m just talking about myself. Sam did, after all, spend the weekend in his small, unheated attic room, stitching a pair of cargo pants by hand using Filson’s waxed canvas he dumpstered in Seattle and carried here via freight train, while I was doing youtube tae-bo (count it!) and eating sushi in a fancy Asheville hotel room. But that is another story.

So I looked and looked (sort of) and then finally found a tree that had lots of acorns, two blocks away from the friend’s house where I’m staying. A white oak, with enough glossy acorns spread out across the ground to trip up a roller-rink full of six year olds.

So, I gathered a bagful in the late fall sunshine, and put them in the oven to dry. You’re supposed to do this, apparently, to keep them from decomposing, if you don’t want to process them right away. And… I burned them. So then time sort of passed, and Sam was working, and I didn’t gather any more of nature’s little wooden nuggets, and it rained…

Finally, on Monday, the planets aligned for a little more acorn-gathering. After all, one day it might actually matter whether or not I know how to gather my own food in what’s left of nature, and here it is almost winter and I don’t even have any acorns. A hypothetical famine for my people!

It sleeted some, but then I biked around in my new, so-red-it’s-almost-orange knitted scarf, and mailed off a letter to Shannon, and felt warm. And Sa
m and I circled the mighty Oak, and descended to pick its nuggets from the muddy bank. The oak was in the dirt yard of a small house, and some sort of Chihuahua mix with a thick, curled tail appeared before us and barked, wary. The screen door opened, a face appeared.

“Hello!” I said, waving from my squat on the bank. “We’re just gathering your acorns, if that’s alright!”

The screen door shut, the face disappeared.

“Cool! Thanks!” I said, dropping nuggets into my bag.

After a time squatted in the cold, picking at the dirt, we had between us a good half-bagful of nuggets. We headed back to my friend’s house where we shed our layers and I put on some water for tea- nettles and dandelion root in a big mason jar. Then we sat, in the dim kitchen lights, cracking acorns with the pliers on our multi-tools, dropping the meats into a green glass bowl. And we would have had a good amount, except almost all of the meats were rotten. Black with a fungus like the graying meat of an avacado, smelling of beer. All were damp, rotten and wormy, all but maybe one in ten- and so we sat meditative, shelling, while brown rice cooked for dinner, and at the end of an hour we had but a few handfuls of nuts to show for it. Much larger was our bowl of discards, clean glossy shells that gave way to mildewed insides.

“It’s the squirrels,” I said. “they got to the good ones first. I bet they can smell the fungus in there. I bet they can tell which ones are good, and they took the good ones before we got a chance.”

“We should just eat the squirrels,” said Sam. “It’d be easier.”

“Yes,” I said, agreeing. It was starting to all make sense, Sam’s eating of the squirrels.

On the bright side, our acorns were not, after all, particularly bitter. Even raw, pre-leaching, you could eat a little piece of one of the blonde meats, and it wasn’t quite as saliva-sucking as an unripe persimmon. We took our handfuls and we put them in a pot with some water, and brought it to a boil, and when the water turned dark like tea, we changed it, and boiled them again, all while listening to the MIA album that everyone is, apparently, sick of, although Sam and I agreed that we, if only because we lived under rocks, were not. And besides, MIA started out years ago by giving her shit away for free on the internet, and I like that. Because that is what I’m doing.

Five or six water changes later, the nutmeats were almost entirely, but not quite, bland, although not altogether delicious. I shrugged and went to bed, leaving them to soak overnight in the pot. And in the morning, we would make- gluten-free acorn pancakes!

The next morning I biked to the store and picked up Millet Flour, which is my second-favorite gluten-free flour for baking. My first favorite is Amaranth Flour, but there wasn’t any at the store, so Millet would have to do. Apparently, until very recently, americans only consumed millet as birdseed- and just now we are realizing that you can eat the shit, and that it’s gluten free, to boot. At home I rinsed the acorns one last time and put them in the oven at 200 to dry out for an hour or so. Once they were dry-ish I dumped them into the blender, grinding them to a fine meal, which looked and felt a lot like almond meal, if you’ve ever seen it. In the end, we had about a cup of acorn meal. We would not, it seemed, have a famine after all. Now if we could just get these pancakes to last through the winter…

I whisked up a couple eggs and put together my favorite gluten-free pancake recipe, which is essentially the “griddle cake” recipe from the Fanny Farmer cookbook, only substituting GF flours, in this case acorn and millet.

I fried the pancakes in a cast iron that was slicked-up with plenty of coconut oil, and they turned out beautifully. The pancakes were hella dense and wonderfully acorny, with top notes of squirrel and a light tannin finish. Sam, Jonathan and I slathered ours in local butter and honey. As we were eating I looked at Sam and said-

“This is some serious food. Seriously.” And it was good.

Carrot Quinn’s Gluten-Free Acorn Pancakes

1 cup millet or amaranth flour

1 cup acorn meal
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

couple spoonfuls sugar

2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons melted butter
enough milk/soy milk to make the batter thin enough

Mix wet, mix dry, combine wet and dry, DO NOT OVERMIX. Fry in cast iron skillet, well greased with coconut oil.

And because everything can not be acorns, here’s a list of other things I’m currently enjoying in this beautiful town-

-Acquiring books at my usual rate and not reading them; writing, instead, or just staring off into space. (If you could store printed matter as body fat, I would currently be sporting a huge spare tire of undigested books.)

-Kapple Sauce, aka Delicious Brassica Sludge, aka Kale Smoothie.

-Actually hanging out with, and being around, people of color, and listening to them talk about everything from queerness to Obama to whether or not they would be willing to get arrested when playing drums at a march

-Pretending that Sam and I are actually going to build a shack in the ivy-jungle that is his backyard, using bike trailers to haul all the lumber we find (where?), and then, in addition, pretending I am going to live in said shack, forever, and ever, the end, and it won’t even matter that I’m so far from my home bioregion, because I can get really good at playing samba drums.

-Playing drums in the local radical samba drum corp, which just happens to be made up of all my friends, who just happen to be the most incredibly genuine people I have ever met in my life, anywhere, ever. Pretending I am going to stay forever and that I am going to learn to call all the breaks we play, and that then we can go on tour, and actualize all of the glamor and fame I wish for the drum corp, but will not actually come to fruition because everyone in the group is too modest and grounded and genuine to want something silly like “tour”, and they don’t want glamor and fame like I do, which seems to be some sort of defect on my part, and I am constantly in awe of them, and I can’t quite figure it out.

Well folks, there’s an update for you. I haven’t, to tell the truth, wanted to write much this last week. For a moment I felt as if my writing was only a sort of hurricane, passed over my Gulf of Mexico. What if it never comes again? But then, of course, it returned. And I felt thankful and also reminded, to never take it for granted. Like spring.

3 thoughts on “Adventures in the Piedmont- Making Acorn Flour

  1. I am so glad you were able to write again. I look forward to reading your latest writing and will never take it for granted, like spring!

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