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Wildman Steve Brill And Eating Acorns.

I've been casting about looking for easy to access recipes on the web for many of the easily foraged foods that were staples to California's native peoples and early settlers.

I have books on California's native flora, but I am loathe to type their contents into this blog. Not only for the amount of time it would take, but also because I'm worried about potentially making an error or infringing on someone's copyrighted work.

In my online wanderings, I ran across Steve Brill's web page. I was out of college and beginning my foray into corporate America when "Wildman" Steve Brill made headlines across the nation for being arrested after eating a dandelion.

I must admit that I had forgotten about Steve and his antics until Google popped his name up in my search results. "Wildman" sounded vaguely familiar, so I visited his site, and re-read his adventures in The Man Who Ate Manhattan.

If you're not familiar with Steve, he garnered a substantial amount of publicity for teaching New Yorkers how to forage in Central Park. This upset the park police to no end and they set out to ensnare this grazing gourmand.

Steve has a page devoted to recipes using foraged, and some not so foraged, ingredients. Although Steve is based in New York, many of the wild plants he uses are also found here in California.

He has a method posted for basic acorn preparation using a blender, food processor, coffee grinder or spice mill.

That is so New York City.

The method I used when I lived in Coastal California involves smashing the acorn with a rock.

When I was in elementary school, every fall we'd take a trip up into the hills surrounding the school. We'd gather acorns by the paper grocery sack full. The twenty some kids would haul their finds down the hills and back to the school. One of our teachers really had this thing for native cultures and had gathered some of the tools used by the Coastal Indians.

The tools she had gathered consisted of rocks. Rather ordinary looking rocks. Yet, she was convinced that some unknown Indian, identity lost to the mists of time, had wielded these very same rocks.

The kids, myself included, were convinced she had rocks in her head.

We would use these for preparing the acorns. One large flat rock, and one rock that would comfortably fit in your hand. The cap was removed from the acorn, then the acorn was placed upon the flat rock. The small rock was used to smash the acorn. The shell was discarded and the meat placed in a bucket.

When the buckets were half full, water would be added and the acorns left to soak overnight.

The following day, the water was changed and the process repeated until the acorns no longer tasted bitter when chewed. It usually took two to three days.

I later learned that the Coastal Indians would place the smashed acorns into loosely woven baskets weighted with rocks. The baskets would then be placed into a stream and the current from the water would remove the bitter tasting tannins in a much more rapid fashion.

4X8 sheets of plywood were then covered with aluminum foil and placed outside on the blacktop. The plywood was weighted with some large rocks (yes, her ancient "Indian" stone tools), and the acorns would be spread out to dry. If we had a couple of good hot days (Indian Summer), the acorns would dry in a couple of days.

Then we'd get to play with the rocks again. We'd smash the acorns and smash again until little fingers were blistered and bloody and at least one child was weeping from an inadvertently smashed digit. Our acorn "flour" most often looked more like oatmeal than flour.

I have to admit, it was pretty thrilling for a bunch of eight year old boys to get to actually smash something with a rock and not get yelled at.

When I was able to go backpacking in the fall, I would still use this method not to make flour, but to make snacks. Dry roasting acorns in a covered pot with a little salt results in nuts that are quite tasty.

I don't remember the actual recipe that we used to make the acorn bread. However, I do remember being told that the "bread" was more often a patty that consisted of the acorn meal, corn meal, water, honey, and the flour (pollen) gathered from cattails. The patty was fried in whatever fat was available or baked like a cake on a flat rock.

You may wish to try this one:

Acorn Bread

6 Tbsp cornmeal
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup mashed potatoes
2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cup finely ground leached acorn meal

Mix cornmeal with cold water, add boiling water and cook 2 minutes,
stirring constantly. Add sale and butter and cool to lukewarm. Soften
yeast in lukewarm water. Add remaining ingredients to corn mixture,
along with yeast. Knead to a stiff dough. Dough will be sticky. Cover
and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch down, shape
into two loaves, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Bake at 375
degrees F for 45 minutes.

A modern Acorn Bread recipe from the book "Cooking with
Spirit, - North American Indian Food and Fact", By Darcy Williamson
and Lisa Railsback

6 comments:
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erniesjourney said...
March 12, 2009 at 7:59 PM  

Oh my gosh Cat - thank you for this post - the other stuff I have printed on acorns is not near as good as yours! Thank you!
Ernie

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gravatar
Humble wife said...
April 5, 2009 at 6:01 AM  

Great post! I think that wherever one lives that the native American population should be checked out as they survived long before we tried to make a go of things.

We have duplicated the way corn has been grown in the desert and it is working incredible!

I look forward to more post like this sharing your prep and resourceful way to learn about foods in your region.
Thanks

gravatar
CherB said...
June 20, 2009 at 3:11 AM  

Steve is a real hoot! You can find him on the Yahoo group "Forage Ahead" where he answers questions and he will even autograph a copy of his book.
Cher - NY Prepper CNY Plantcycle

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Wildman Steve Brill said...
December 13, 2009 at 7:14 PM  

You must have live oak acorns on the West Coast, which you can eat raw. With very rare exceptions, the East Coast species have contain so much tannin, grinding and boiling is necessary, and even that doesn't work with some species.

Thanks for the PR, and Happy Foraging to everyone!

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