Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Food and Cooking: Manna

Next year in September, I'm going to hear a "thunk" and roll on the roof, and instead of thinking "Aw crap, branches fell on the roof."  I'm going to be thinking "Pie!" and race outside with a rake and a bucket.

I have made two discoveries this fall.  First, we really do have a towering, mature oak on our property just like the listing said, because it's been dropping bushels of acorns on our yard.  Since I grew up in Minnesota, I was much more used to red oaks, with their many-lobed leaves.  Our tree is a white oak, and this is great news... but more on that later.  Second discovery, the tree next to the oak is a pecan tree.  Yes, we live on a road named "Pecan" but the tree is nowhere near that road, and it's the only one I can see anywhere near the road because our neighbors don't have any.  I guess road-naming logic is not the same as regular logic.

The shells of the pecans do not look like store-bought pecans, as you can see.  They are streaky and mottled, both the actual shell, and from the residue of the green pods they grow in.  But inside, they are perfect, large and sweet... even less bitter than store-bought.  They will be a lot of work, but they are definitely worth it.  A side benefit of having this delicious stuff fall from the tree is that they really encourage us to rake a large portion of the lawn.

Few people seem to know this, but acorns are also edible.  Because they have tannins in them, however, they must be processed a bit before you can eat them by shelling and then soaking or boiling the nutmeats in water.  Red oak has the most tannins, but white oak (the kind we have) have less.  In fact some varieties of white oak are sweet enough to eat from the tree.  Ours are not, but they are not terribly bitter.  I may be able to get away with only one boiling.  I hope so, because if you put them into cold water after the first boil, it locks in the bitterness, so you have to have a fresh pot of water boiling and waiting at the boil each time.  I'm not sure I want to be boiling that much water unless I'm canning.

Acorns have the appearance and texture of macadamia nuts, or at least they did to me when I taste-tested one for its tannin levels, and can be ground into a flour, or used like regular nuts once processed, or so I've read.  I have picked up quite a bucketful already, and will be experimenting.  My research says that a tree the size of ours can drop a thousand pounds of acorns per season.  That's a lot of wasted food, sitting on the ground.  Sure, I've come across quite a few pecans and acorns with little squirrel nibbles in them, but I've thrown those on the leaf piles, to be added to the compost.

If we live here for as many years as I think we will, that thunk and roll sound, as the tree drops its fruit on our roof, is going to be making my eyes light up the first time I hear it each fall. 

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