Sunday, November 30, 2008

Acorn processing

I think this post is long overdue to put up. I have put this step far behind me in my process of making acorns into flour. My problem is that I can't seem to follow through on the final step, but I will write more on that later! The acorns looked kind of cute in their bowl. They look all innocent and such as if shelling them wasn't such a tedious thing to do.

But now we had to determine how to increase the surface area so that they could boil and boil and boil, and remove as much tannic acid as possible. SP came up with a brilliant idea. I just can't figure out what the tool is called.

But honestly, this chopping worked much more efficiently when done on a cookie sheet. So, here is the picture of the shelled acorns that have been boiled, rinsed, and chopped; going into the 200 degree oven to roast.

See what happened was that I actually put them all in at once, on three different sheets, and that proved to give off far too much moisture at once and therefore not really work at all. I love learning by trial and error. I also know that the silly little book I am following lacks a lot of wordage that I know feel needs to be put into the book. I think starting with one cup of acorns would probably be the best direction I would add.

So now, I am left with a large bowl of very browned acorn bits. It is desperately screaming to be ground. I am trying to stifle it with a plate and a bowl, but I can still hear them calling me to finish what I started. I really wanted acorn bread for Thanksgiving, but you can see that that didn't happen! :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Buy Local Turkey

SP picked up our 19 pound turkey this morning on his way to work, and by all accounts it is one big bird! Anyway, I have soup on the stove and I just wanted to give a little shout out to our local farm!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Get real. Get Maine.

Here's a great way to find local food and local farms. The search engine even allows you to find particular projects.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Big girl bones...

Anyone who know's me well, will see these pictures and now how monumentous an event this was. Not only did I cook something with bones in it, but here I am actually touching the bones. I like to think of it as an omen that SP is going to nab a deer this year. Maybe it means I am one step closer to having my own livestock being raised for food. I know that I can rely on SP to butcher our pigs, goats, or cows but maybe it is time for me to get over my predispositions to hating anything on the bone. I despise it enough that you might think I was an invertebrate.

Sorry but the EMT in me got a bit fascinated by how those shoulder bones fit together and worked. Regardless, touching these are just a baby step. Picking it up and gnawing on it ...ah... I just don't think that's going to happen any time soon!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Skidding Logs

Traditionally, logs are skid to a log yard using a skidder. For the small woodlot owner like we are, we lack such an industrious machine. In it's place, we borrowed a friends 4 wheeler and it worked perfectly!

Well the day began early, and since the tree's fell the day before, I knew the second I heard the four-wheeler idling near by I had to get out and capture it all. So I put down my coffee, grabbed the camera and ran outside. Bare feet and all, I was determined to be board the trial run. I think SP was a bit frightened that I would get squished, but I like to live on the edge.

Clearly the day started out fairly warm for the fall. Round two I decided to capture from afar. I think SP is trying to figure out where I went. The four-wheeler did an excellent job pulling two full logs at a time. I think SP is cute.

For the next part, 10 year old boy wonder helped out. He waited patiently while Dad cut the trees into skiddable lengths. Then when the time came to do so, he would help by wrapping the chains around the log and attaching them to the four wheeler.

Quickly the pile grew. This is about 10 trips worth of wood.

It became an all day project because the easiest wood to get came up first from the primary log yard. But after that we had to get in skid through and out of the woods and onto the road.

This is round one. It took several stops and starts to get the road yard set up because there is a drainage crossing to get out, and either the four-wheeler or the logs would get hung up. Slowly the road yard was set up for easy access.

And by then the temperature had dropped and I had to modify my choice of foot apparel.

Fortunately, all this wood has been either split or piled to dry further. The wood stove was officially lit earlier this week and I am proud to say that my basement is now the warmest room in the house! I think I am going to go and put some wood on the fire!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Perfect Snack

Vermont Cookie Buttons - Purely Maple
I'm full! Why am I eating??
Because these are so darn local and delicious!

I highly recommend the purely maple cookie buttons.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saving what you have...reusing

This post has more to do with my recipe post than not as it is a by product of my cooking. However, I truly feel that you should use as much of what you have as possible. From animals you hunt to the by products or wastes from cooking, everything can be used or even reused especially if you compost! In this case, I have saved the stock from a roast and frozen it in ice cube trays. Alongside at the older stock cubes saved from a leftover in the fridge. In either case, freeze it in ice cube trays, one cube equals one ounce. We discovered this when making baby food and that is a perfect way to measure.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Someone's missing from my life...

My ten year old has been away in California for a week. I miss him. You don't realize how helpful a ten year old can be until they are suddenly gone. I also miss that "I'm about to be an adult" conversation. He has amazed me this year - coming so far in such a short time. This is the little guy that only months ago was winded running around the house who is now a champion wood splitter in our house. This is a huge leap because last year you could hear little chants of "Wimpy wimpy wimpy!" when he swung his mallet onto the wedge. But this year he has achieved such size and strength that he not only split at a decent rate, but look at that pile he has accumulated!

Better yet, he's very much interested in it for the exercise he gets! I think I am beginning to like this prepubescent stage!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Removing tannic acid from acorns

Living in Maine, the Oak tree that gave me my acorns is a Red Oak. Therefore it has more tannic acid in it that the White Oak. I am nearly done shelling the acorns and am preparing for the next step. Everybody's friend Google led me to a Maine Guide page. Since this is my first time on such a sustainable measure, I think taking it from a seasoned pro at this is best. Dan Fisher provides immense detail and offers a quite interesting natural history of the use of acorns. Thanks Dan!

Acorns and Acorn Bread by Dan Fisher
On a windy day in September I took time out from work to go on a day hike with two friends, Dave and Eric. We climbed Mt. Megunticook in Camden, and traversed some of the nearby trails. Eric and I stopped often to stuff some of the abundant acorns into my day pack. This year (1997) there seems to be a good crop of acorns. Some people say that a lot of acorns mean the winter will be a harsh one.
Acorns and oaks have a multitude of uses. All types of acorns throughout the country are edible. In south coastal Maine, where I live, the most predominant oak is the Red Oak. Acorns from the Red Oak group have a lot of tannic acid in them that must be leached out to make them edible. Although the leaf shapes of the trees in the Red Oak category vary somewhat, the end of the leaf lobes on all of these oaks are pointed. All of the oaks in the White Oak group have leaves with the ends of the lobes rounded. Acorns from the White Oak group need little or no processing. They have a low tannic acid content, and are naturally sweet. I've been in areas of Arizona where most of the oaks were sweet and I was able to pick the acorns off the ground and eat them as a tasty ready-to-go treat.
There are several reasons White Oaks are few and far between in my neck of the woods. They can take as long as fifty years to produce acorns. When the acorns fall to the ground they are the preferred food of many animals including deer, turkeys, grouse, squirrels, chipmunks and more. Squirrels are known to eat the White Oak acorns first and bury the Red Oak acorns for later in the winter or spring. Over time some of the bitterness is leached out of the acorns by the moisture in the ground, aided by snowmelt and rain.
In some areas of the country, even in recent history, acorns were a staple food for native peoples. Over the course of history it has been estimated that many more millions of tons of acorns have been consumed by humans than wheat, rice, and other grains.
Acorns can easily be processed into nutritious flour. First they must be shelled. A fist sized rock works great as a nutcracker. After I shell them I like to crush the acorn meats into smaller pieces before boiling. This allows the tannic acid to be leached out more quickly.
Take the shelled, crushed acorn meats and put them into a pot of already boiling water. As the acorns boil the water will become discolored. When the water is dark brown (every ten minutes or so of boiling), strain out the acorn meats and switch them to another pot of already boiling water. Continue this process until the nutmeats no longer taste bitter. I generally do 3 or 4 water changes. The amount of boiling you do will vary depending on your acorns and your patience. I've made sweet tasting acorn bread with acorn meal that still had some bitterness to it. Experiment.
When switching the acorns from one pot of water to another, make sure the water is boiling before adding the acorns. Switching the acorns from boiling water to cold water seems to lock in the bitterness. When most of the bitterness is gone from the nutmeats, the meats can be crushed into a meal or mush. The wet meal can be used right away in a bread recipe, or dried and stored as flour is. It will keep as long as flour does if kept dry.
I mix a lighter flour such as cattail or wheat flour with the acorn meal when making bread. Acorn flour is heavy and the bread may fall apart if not made of a mixture of flours. White flour, corn flour, and soy flour all will do.
Another way to leach out tannins from acorns is to put them in a mesh sack and leave them in a running stream for a week or so. The length of time and results will vary depending on the acorns, the water temperature and flow rate, and other factors.
If you use the boiling method don't throw away the brown water. This water is a tannic acid solution that has a variety of uses. It can be used as a dye for clothing. When used this way it needs a fixer or the color will fade after washing. The tannic acid can also be used as a laundry detergent. Put a couple of cups of the solution in each load of wash. It cleans well, and the clothing will smell great, but it will color whites a slightly tan color.
The solution is antiviral and antiseptic. It can be used as a skin wash for rashes, skin irritations, burns, poison ivy, cuts, etc. It can be gargled for sore throats or taken as a mild tea for diarrhea and dysentery, or used externally on hemorrhoids. Store jars of tannic acid solution in jars in the refrigerator. If mold forms on top after time, the solution can be reboiled to kill the mold and stored again.
Animal hides can be tanned more easily by soaking them in the tannic acid from the acorns. Hide tanning is the process of making a raw animal skin into a comfortable, pliable, durable piece of clothing. The use of the boiled brown acorn water in producing "tanned" hides is why we call this water tannic acid.

The notes below were written by Tim Smith.
While the season for poison ivy is just about behind us, the season for acorns is in full swing. Many people have heard that acorns can be eaten, and a few have actually put them in their mouths, only to spit them out while their faces puckered up. This is due to the tannic acid in the acorns, which much be leached out. To do this, bring a large pot of water to a boil, then dump in the shelled acorns. Let them boil until the water turns a dark color, then remove the acorns and put them into another pot of clean, boiling water. Continue this process until they no longer have the puckering effect when you chew on them. Then use them for snacks, grind into flour, or use any way you please. It is important to put them into boiling water for good-tasting acorns, as putting them into a pot of cold water, then bringing it to a boil tends to lock in the tannic acid. Don't throw out the water, as it is naturally astringent (contracts or tightens up tissues) and great for the skin. By now you might be curious how this relates to poison ivy. The connection is that acorn water is amazingly effective in eliminating it. A recent discussion with a quick-witted summer camp director from Pennsylvania confirmed my anecdotal evidence. I was informed that it had eliminated symptoms in 95% of cases at his camp within three days. The method used in this case was to pour the acorn water into ice trays and freeze, then rub the ice on the affected area. Cold also helps with inflamed tissues, making the ice an ideal delivery mechanism. If you grind the acorns into flour you can make delicious and nutritious acorn bread. Here's how:
50% or less Acorn flour (if you use more than 50%, bread will be too crumbly)
50% or more wheat (preferably whole wheat) flour
a bit of fat (olive oil, bear grease, butter, or whatever you have)
1 teaspoon of baking powder for each cup of flour
If you don't grind the acorns well, you have nut bread, so there's no need to be overly assiduous. Mix the ingredients, add enough water for a clay-like dough, and bake until done. To test if done, get a stick and push it into the center of the loaf. If it comes out clean and dry, it's done. If it comes out wet and sticky, it needs to cook more. Cooking time depends on temperature, size of the loaf you're making, and how wet the dough is. If you do it a few times, you'll get it right.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Making Flour out of Acorns

At Jean Craighead George's encouragement, I am attempting to make flour out of acorns. On Thursday, my two year old and I gathered acorns that had fallen from a majestic oak at my daughter's preschool. We filled two lunch sized paper bags, brought them home, poured them into my large colander and gave them a thorough rinsing. My little guy was so proud of his accomplishments and I was proud of my resolve to live more sustainably and try new things to provide for my family. I had a long stare down with them on the kitchen counter realizing what work laid ahead for me.

Well the acorns and I continued our stand off until SP stepped in and took control of the situation. Thanks to his ingenuity, kitchen scissors work best to cut the tough acorn shells open and into quarters.

Then to pick the inner meat out of the remaining shell is reminiscent of those pesky filberts at Christmas time. Not the easiest process, but after trial and error, a corn cob holder seemed to be the perfect tool.

SP tells me there is such a thing as a nut pick, but I don't have one. So when using the corn cob pick, the best location to place it is between the shell and the meat. The movement is to try and lift the meat out of the shell. If you can stab the meat with the pick and lift it out easily, you are one lucky acorn picker. Please excuse the left over Halloween nail polish on my thumbs.

At the end of our Friday night efforts, this is how far we got on the colander of acorns. I pledge to get through these all of these acorns!

Well we got a fresh start on the process this morning, and even got the kids to help! They loved it! Our daughter is so proud that these acorns came from her preschool.

If any one wants to come over and help pick, you are more than welcome and we can use some help! It's a fantastic fine motor activity to boot! I'm taking a break from the process right now because we need SP to cut up the rest of the colander! Back to work!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Putting the garden to bed.

The annual ritual of putting the garden to bed is always one with mixed feelings. At times I want to see how long I extend the season, clipping broccoli in smaller and smaller amounts and waiting to see how tall the reseeded peas will get before one last till of the soil. The hard frosts are happening more and more often, the tomato's are long gone, and even the corn stalks no longer seem something I want to work, even for a porch side decoration. I knew the second I heard Shane start Tillulah up that today was the day we would put the garden to bed for the winter. Tillulah called the family from the house because even the midgets wanted to take part in the excitement.

I immediately set to work and gather the last of the seeds I was saving. More to come on that adventure, when I finally tackle the paper bag brigade on the front porch. Once I snapped all I wanted of the broccoli seed of the stems, I threw the monolithic beasts in our friendly wheel barrow and walked it to it's final resting place: the compost bins.

SP had to capture a picture of me in my favorite camouflage of all - plant material!

On my way back from the compost I couldn't help but acknowledge what a pretty process this all is. It was in that moments pause that SP decided, now that he has prepped the edge, that it was Mommy's turn with her baby. So here she is, making me all sweaty.

Now if you haven't run a tiller before, it is quite a work out, particularly for a 5'3" female. So to no surprise I quickly lost my wool layer! Tillulah really is a wonderful beast - I have to throw my weight into it to make it around the corners. No wonder I feel so sore right now.

But no matter how much I want the season to not end, I don't want to get caught by winter. Last fall, our first snow lasted until April, and all the beets, carrots, and leeks were buried with it. This year, the last row of leeks will remain after today's work, destined for some Thanksgiving meal. Let's hope the snow doesn't fall in earnest before then!


Meet Tillulah. She's my friend. I heard her before I saw her. I immediately knew her name.

Tillulah was the best Mother's Day gift ever.

She's had a very busy day. I will show and tell you more about that later!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hunting Season has opened...

Today's weather was not in our favor. The warm night last night didn't bode well for snapping a deer in the early morning light. So SP stayed in bed snug as a bug and the kids cooperated. Halloween must have truly tuckered them out because they ALL slept in. Once lunch was said and done and nap time was declared, SP went to gather me the last of the apples on the trees, returning triumphant and ready. It was his turn now. Time to go out and hunt. It's too bad he didn't get a deer because the poor guy was so cold when he got home. Let's hope for better luck next time. Our freezer really wants to know what deer looks like!

Halloween Candy

How many other countries celebrate Hallows Eve like we do? Last night as I walked the darkened streets of our small town last night, I saw littered amongst the leaves at my feet, colorful wrappers of eaten candy. I wonder how much litter does Halloween actually create? It wasn't until we got home and poured out the collective pillow case of candy that I realized the sheer volume of candy my three children had gathered. It wasn't all candy seeing that we did also brought home rings, pencils, play dough, bubbles, glow sticks and even fortune cookies. Yes, in our small town we trick or treat at the Chinese restaurant. As I sat and drank coffee this first Saturday of November, I tried to wrap my brain around what to do the mountains of candy on my table.

What am I going to do with it all?

Step one: Grab my daughter and have her help me sort it. I need to inform you however, that she was a ghost last night and has not had a shower yet. This means that all that white hair spray we drenched it with yesterday afternoon is not only still there, but it has also been slept on and not brushed once since. Consider yourself warned!

She got to the table and knew what to do."We're going to sort it!" was the first thing she said. Apparently Dad had told her about it already. She set right to work!

We vigorously sorted. The old Easter egg candy and anything unwrapped went in the garbage. I noticed certain things we had a run on this year, which to my dismay did not include Butterfingers. We made a bowl or all things suckable - from the smallest ones unsafe for the baby, to the gum filled Lollipops unsafe for the 10 year-old's braces. We sorted the family favorites into the plastic jack o'lantern. My daughter made her own little basket, gleefully filling it with all the chewy sticky stuff not allowed on braces. She tried to keep SP's tootsie rolls, but I put a stop to that.

The best piles we made were the piles for the freezer. The freezer you ask? Yes I am freezing candy and here are the reasons why:
1. Who wouldn't want a few Snickers in the freezer?
2. Broken Jolly Ranchers can be melted into windows for gingerbread houses.
3. M&Ms make great additions to any cookies!
4. Assuring that we always have the essential chocolate for s'mores.
5. To make sure that I can make more than rice crispy treats with all those candy corns!

But there was one special bag that was not meant for the freezer. We made it for SP.

SP spends a lot of time traipsing through the woods. It takes a lot of energy. What a better quick fix than a Snickers, or a Milky Way, or some malted milk balls? Of course I through in some Dots and Tootsie Rolls since he loves them. But the biggest reason I made this bag, was because hunting season opened today. The poor man needs something other than rifle cartridges for his hunting vest. Maybe that extra pack of peanut M&Ms I grabbed from the family stash will keep him from falling asleep under some tree while he waits. I hope the deer are drawn to the scent of Reese's peanut Butter cups or else that one Butterfingers I gave up for my beloved SP.