As summer makes its transition into fall acorns begin to cover the ground of our local parks. Although there is an abundance of these peculiar little nuts, they can easily be ignored and quite literally stepped on by those who do not know of their potential.
As the Iowa Master Naturalists plan to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox on Sept. 22 with a Wild Food Tasting fundraising event that will feature foraged food dishes, Executive Director Elisabeth Swain chose not to ignore and instead to include acorns in the event’s carefully curated menu, which she helped create with her knowledge of local foraging.
“I was thinking in courses, and I was thinking of all the different things we could forage in fairly large quantities.” she said about the development of the menu.
There are many varieties of oak trees that grow in Iowa and as a result, a variety of acorn species that each have their own qualities.
One of the biggest challenges when cooking with acorns is the tannin, an organic substance that can make acorns and other plants bitter-tasting as a defense against hungry mammals, according to Swain.
For the event, she found a way to rid acorns of tannin and make the misunderstood member of the nut family into a functional flour.
“Tannin is water soluble and you can either use a hot extraction method, which is fast, or a cold extraction method, which is slower but slightly less labor-intensive,” she said. “I use the hot extraction method.”
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This method requires several rounds of boiling and soaking the acorn “meat.” Depending on the type of acorn used, they will need to be boiled between five to eight times until the meat is very soft and the tannin is no longer able to be tasted. The flour is made by toasting and processing the meat into a powder.
After Swain figured out the flour, she had to come up with a way to use it in a dish that would be served at the Wild Food Tasting event.
“I wanted something that would be dark colored because things that are made with acorn flour tend to not look super appetizing because the flour is so dark,” she said. “So I thought of modifying a brandy snaps recipe and then making them into little cups to hold some other foraged food, in this case mulberries.”
Swain’s “acorn flour snaps” are made with a slightly modified brandy snaps recipe that completely substitutes all-purpose flour for its wild alternative and skips on the brandy.
“The acorns already give it a toasty flavor so the brandy isn’t really missed,” Swain said.
Although acorns are easily recognizable, Swain cautions beginning foragers to take things slow.
“Acorns are easy enough to identify but if you are new to foraging, I would not recommend eating anything that you are unsure about,” Swain said. “There are lots of ways to learn more but if you want to get a taste of what foraged food can do, the event is a great place to start.”
Swain’s acorn flour snaps and many other foraged food treats, including cocktails, will be ready to be eaten at the Wild Food Tasting event later this month at Old Brick, 26 E. Market St., Iowa City. The Awful Purdies, an all-female Iowa City folk band, will provide the entertainment.
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“The event falls on the Autumnal Equinox and would certainly make for an excellent date night,” Swain said. “And if you’re not coming for the food, come for the music because the Awful Purdies are really a very fine folk group.”
Tickets for the event, which is set up as a tasting and not a full meal, are $15. Reservations can be made at iowamasternaturalists.org.
l Comments: (319) 398-8287; firstname.lastname@example.org
Collect the acorns and be sure to choose those without holes or cracks. Shell the acorns and extract meat from inside.
Fill a pot with water and boil them for 15 minutes, until the water is dark. Take off the heat and allow the acorns to soak for several hours, then drain the dark water out and refill with fresh water before boiling again. Repeat this process until they break apart easily and no longer taste bitter.
Drain all the excess water and blend the acorns in a food processor or blender. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and put in the dehydrator overnight or in the oven on a very low heat for several hours until completely dry.
Break apart the dried mixture and blend once again into a fine dust.
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup acorn flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
To make the snaps, melt together butter, molasses, sugar, and brown sugar in a pot over medium heat for about 2 minutes allowing the mixture to bubble, stirring constantly. Turn off heat and add acorn flour, salt and ginger.
Spoon mixture onto the baking sheet one tablespoon at a time.
Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven and allow to cool on the pan for 2 to 3 minutes. Lift up the circles and gently form them onto an upside-down muffin tin.
Once hardened, remove gently and fill with topping of your choice. Elisabeth Swain of the Iowa Master Naturalists filled hers with whipped cream and mulberries.
If you go
l What: A Wild Food Tasting event by the Iowa Master Naturalists
l When: 7 to 9 p.m., Sept. 22
l Where: Old Brick, 26 E. Market St., Iowa City
l Cost: $15
l Details: iowamasternaturalists.org