Thursday, October 18, 2007
Foraging for the Apocalypse
Last week, still heavily under the influence of my jet lag, Shannon, my oldest friend in the world, whisked me down to Redwood City late Saturday night so that I might spend some time with her family, make breakfast, and later accompany my goddaughter to a community theater production of Annie Get Your Gun. Typical, wholesome Sunday fun.
When I awoke to the various sounds of three children trying not to make noise-- enjoyable to someone like me who merely borrows the children of others but does not have to live with them-- I wandered into the kitchen to find that, not only had the morning's menu been decided, but preparations had been made in advance-- enjoyable to someone like me to whom the words "let's make breakfast!" are sometimes uttered, but the planning and execution are invariably a solo effort, in which case I try to dirty as many dishes as possible.
Craig, my college roommate and the man Shannon had the good sense to marry, announced that he and my goddaughter had been foraging for acorns. Acorns. When I think of foraging, if at all, my mind goes to truffle pigs and strange old men materializing back around the kitchen door with boxes of strange looking mushrooms in their arms and cigarettes dangling from their weather-beaten lower lips. Acorns call to the mind irritatingly industrious and moralizing rodents of fable. I had always thought of foragers as edgy, marginalized, or borderline crazy. Modern foragers do not go to spas for Rolfing sessions or have cable television. I was now faced with performing a quick and rather drastic reassessment. The only two foragers I actually knew were standing in front of me with a bowl of acorns-- a 38-year-old man and an 8-3/4-year-old girl. Based upon the new information at hand, I had to decide that foraging was not necessarily a desperate reaction to hunger performed by those who are either too chicken or too lazy to go out and hunt wild animals. Nor was it necessarily a rejection of supermarket commercialism. As I looked into their proud faces, I decided that foraging was painfully cute. It was an act, in this case, of optimism and resourcefulness.
Shannon mused that she was glad to know she would now be able to feed her family in the event of the Apocalypse. We spent the next two minutes explaining what the Apocalypse was to my goddaughter. She was unimpressed.
Suddenly, foraging for acorns seem like a very, very good idea. I was saved from spending too much time figuring out how I would survive in San Francisco when the world finally goes to Hell by the fact that there were three hungry children and an equal amount of adults who needed to be fed. With acorns.
Though I am technically 1/8 Native American, genetically speaking, I received none of the famous resourcefulness of these ancestors. Neither did I inherit their characteristic lack of body hair or intolerance to alcohol, but those are topics for other blogs. Besides, my ancestors were from the Great Plains. They couldn't walk ten steps without falling over a bison. I had no idea what to do with acorns. Fortunately, Craig has an intimate understanding of both the Internet and how to read cookbooks. He did a little research and got some ideas, the best of which was pancakes. Acorn pancakes.
According to Siouxme.com, acorns were once the main food staple of nearly 3/4 of the Native Californian population. The most common oak trees found in the Bay Area are the Tan Oak, the Black Oak, the Live Oak, and the Valley Oak. (If you don't know why I'm talking about oak trees... please say you know why I'm talking about oak trees.) The Pomo Tribe preferred the acorns from the Tan Oak, feeling that they had superior flavor. The Miwoks preferred Black Oak acorns, because it took less leeching to rid them of their bitter tannic acid. The conflict between what is good and what is convenient is as old as the ages, it would seem. These original food snobs of the Bay Area pronounced the acorn of the Live Oak as "too wormy" and "too easy to get-- nothing that plentiful can be very good."
Craig performed a similar experiment and came to basically the same conclusion. I am also grateful that he took the time to leech the acorns himself, sparing me the effort. So, with thoughts of feeding his hungry brood, he handed me a bowl of acorn meal and recipe for pancakes, Shannon turned on the griddle, and I proceeded to make the pancakes.
The results were great. The meal had a flavor reminiscent of chestnuts. When combined with honey and butter? I would use an expletive here to convey how good they were, but I thought better of it.
I have always admired Craig's sense of adventure, his optimism and natural curiosity. Hell, I've been a bit awed by Shannon's nurturing qualities, blinding creativity and rapier wit for the past 33 years. Fortunately, I can see a bit of both parents emerging in the personality of my goddaughter. Perhaps the best thing I can wish for this little acorn is that she doesn't fall too far from the family tree.
Three cheers for acorn pancakes.
If foraging on your own, look down-- you want the ones which have fallen from the tree. You might consider wearing protective headgear, since Autumn is the only time to gather acorns and, since one invariably spends a good amount of time directly beneath the canopy of oak trees when one is gathering the goods, odds are decent that some might leap to their death from the branches and on to one's head. Lawsuits against oak trees can be costly and, most likely, pointless.
Speaking of headgear, look for acorns still wearing their "little hats". Those found without these hats are likely to be infested with weevils, which some might consider appealingly value-added, in terms of protein content. I doubt these would add much value to pancake batter.
1 cup acorn meal *
1 cup white flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup of oil (vegetable or some other neutral-flavored type.)
1/2 cup honey
2 cups milk
1. Preheat griddle to medium heat.
2. Combine dry ingredients in whatever large bowl you like. One with a spout is most welcome.
3. Combine oil, honey, eggs, and milk until smooth in consistency.
4. Combine the wet with the dry ingredients into the large bowl.
5. Adjust by adding more milk if the batter appears too thick, more flour if too thin. The nature
of all acorn meal is not equal. The batter should be thin enough to pour, but not runny, as
one might imagine.
6. Drop an experimental dollop of batter onto griddle. Adjust heat accordingly.
7. Griddle dollar-sized pancakes until the bottoms are browned and the top side bubbles.
About three minutes. Flip and cook until cakes are barely firm to the touch.
8. Remove pancakes to a warm plate. I hold mine in a warm oven covered with a towel until
all the pancakes have been made.
9. Serve hot with butter and honey. Or whatever you feel like. I don't really care. As long as
it makes you happy and harms no one.
Makes about 36 dollar-sized pancakes. I was not anal-retentive enough in this case to count them. We were too busy eating them as they came off the griddle to get an accurate number.
* I know I have not walked you through the process of leeching acorns, but I have not walked down that road myself. Go do an internet search or something. It's not like you have anything better to do, seeing that you've managed to waste enough time reading about my pancakes.