This is a blog about the pursuits of Naturalist Alan Russo to incorporate all things Natural, especially Plants, into his daily life. Living close to Nature has always been a passion of mine and I try, with natures help, to live a Healthy lifestyle for myself and for the Earth.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Welcome to Winter

 Today, December 22nd, is the shortest day of the year, with the Sun being at it's lowest point in the sky for we here in NC, USA. The north Polar Axis of the Earth is tilted directly away from the Sun and from this point on will begin to swing around and start pointing more and more back towards the Sun. Because of this shift, from our perspective here on Earth, the Sun begins it's apparent trip Northward towards the Equator which makes our days in the Northern Hemisphere begin to get longer.
 Just a few Nature observations. Our temperatures this Fall have been all over the map. Just the other day it was 19 deg. when I got up to go to work. But today, ironically, it was 70 deg. on the first day of Winter! There are Dandelion Flowers blooming all over my property, there are Sweet Violets in bloom, Field Garlic leaves in abundance and I have patches of Chickweed, green, succulent and in bloom in several places. Henbit is taking over my recently tilled gardens and the  Basal Rosettes of Thistle leaves are as large as I would expect them to be in the early Spring. Yum! As soon as the rain stops I will go and pick a nice salad of "Spring" Greens to celebrate Winter!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Acorn Muffins!

  Fall is the time of year where most Trees produce seeds, it just so happens (by chance?), it is also the perfect time for those living close to nature to collect their stores of high protein and high fat foods to help them survive the long cold Winter. Everything from Squirrels to Woodchucks to Mice and Rats are scurrying around to store enough food. There once was a time when primitive Humans in North America, who lived by the cycles of Nature, had to do the same.
  One of the staple foods to many a primitive Human, especially in Eastern N.America, was the Acorn. The Acorn is the perfect food to store for winter survival. It is high in Protein, Fat and minerals, and comes in its own little package to keep it fresh all winter long till it is needed. It is readily available, and in many forests, there are more than any one family could ever collect and use.
  Acorns come from Oak trees, and the Acorns they produce are as varied as the trees that produce them. They come in all shapes and sizes and are colored in many shades of browns and reddish browns. Two major types of Oaks are the White Oaks and the Red Oaks. Oak trees, in general, are known for their high Tannic Acid content, one of the things that make Oak Trees Medicinal due to it's astringent nature, and the Acorns take up that Tannic Acid. Unfortunately Tannic Acid is is extremely bitter also, which make most Acorns too bitter to eat without processing. White Oaks tend to have less Tannic Acid in their Acorns and I have found some White Oaks in my time that I was able to eat the Acorns right off the tree.
 Luckily, Tannic Acid is water soluble, so it is possible, with a little work, to leach the Tannic Acid from the Acorns to make them palatable. In primitive times, if you were lucky enough to live by a river, you could put the shelled Acorns in a basket and throw it in the river, and as the water ran over the Acorns it would leach out the Tannic Acid. At this point you could use them as they were or dry them for storage to be used later.
  What made me start thinking about all this Acorn stuff was; I had gone over a friends house to get some fire wood that he had just cut down and as I pulled into his driveway the whole driveway was filled with Acorns from a huge White Oak he had in front of his house. I don't have any Oak Trees on my property so I asked him if he wouldn't mind if I gathered some. If I wanted too, I have no doubt I could have easily collected over 200 pounds from this one tree! I didn't of course, I only collected a small bucketful to play around with. I have done this before, though it's been a long time, and I remember how labor intensive it could be.
  What follows is my non-primitive way of processing Acorns.

Whole Acorn right from the ground
 When I got home I tried to crack some of the Acorns but found it very hard to get the shell off, so I gave up and put the Acorns in the garage and promptly forgot about them for a couple of weeks. When I finally got around to trying them again the nut had dried inside and pulled away from the shell which made it alot easier to take the seed out.
Shelled Acorns 
 The next thing I did was to winnow the seeds to separate the debris from the usable parts.
The next step is to leach the Tannic Acid from the Acorns. I did this by placing them in a large Mason Jar and filling it with water.
The brown Tannic Acid Leaching into the water
 There are a couple of ways to do this, one is to have a place where you can keep water slowly running in the jar and continuously overflowing till it stops turning brown. The other is to keep changing the water over and over again for a couple of days till it stops turning brown. This is what I did and it took about three days and maybe twelve or fifteen changes to get to this:
Clear enough!
 Next, I put the Acorns on top of my wood stove to slowly dry. Once dry, I ground them in a blender (real primitive!) into a flour. I put the flour into a small Mason Jar for storage.
Acorn Flour
Today I decide to make some muffins with the flour. If you want the muffins to come out light and fluffy, you have to add some other kind of flour to the mix or the muffins will come out hard. I used some Organic Spelt Flour for mine and just followed a basic muffin recipe.
Acorn Muffins!
The Acorn flour makes the muffins come out very dark and earthy looking, and the Acorns have a unique taste that doesn't compare to anything else I have ever eaten. The taste brought back memories of the first couple of times I tried this years ago. They were really good!