the nuts that poing on your head

by bam

don’t know about you, but where i live these are dangerous days. might want to don armor for walking to school. don’t even think about dashing. at least not on the sidewalk, where the volume of slippery droppings has grown to the point that it’s rather like walking on marbles.

which basically is what it is.

what i mean is: acorns are falling. are raining. are storming from high up above. this here’s a deluge.

and sometimes—like when i’m untwisting my ankle that just took a ride on the top of a marble, i mean an acorn–i think there should be signs. little warnings. “beware: acorns above and below, and fallings besides. tread at your own risk.”

now i’ve got nothing against them. rather like the chubby-cheeked nut that looks to be wearing a siberian hat, pulled down over its ears.

in fact, me and the nut go way back. a whole decade ago i tromped through the woods with a fellow who insisted we as a nation had the next great snack food laying thick in the woods. the squirrels, he suggested, were all over it. didn’t even need ads.

and the native americans, some 4,000 years earlier, had been hip to the next food sensation.

the man who i tromped with was convinced we should all be chomping acorns for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. and snacks in between. and he’s been chewing and spitting for 25 years, in search of the elusive sweet acorn.

ken asmus is his name. and it’s the woods near kalamazoo (now there’s a town with a name, don’t you think?), back over in michigan, where he does the bulk of his tromping. but he gets packets each week from folks all over the planet who think they’ve sunk their bicuspids into the nut of his dreams. he’s tasted acorns from romania, czechoslovakia, south korea, china, even from france. mais oui.

he has, by word of mouth and the strange ways things work in the world of botanical esoterica, become pretty much the planet’s chief taster of acorns. egad.

and for my day job, i got to taste with him.

blkkhh. is pretty much the thing i remember.

you see, the acorn is a snack you can’t just swipe from the ground, like you do with, say, maybe the saskatoon (the wild berry he’d eaten for breakfast, back on the day that i visited, and who ever forgets meeting a chap who gives you a chance to use saskatoon in a sentence?).

nope. the acorn is a food you must work for.

unless of course you are a squirrel, and then you come equipped with a something right there in your saliva that zaps out the bittery taste of the acorn.

that nasty taste, the one that might make you spit, is there by design. yup, back on the day when the whole world was created, the one who’s in charge even remembered to put in some tannin. that’s tannic acid, and it works as a natural pesticide. how nifty is that?

tannic acid, though, is water soluble. meaning you can wash it away. which the native americans figured out four millennia back.

as early as 346, after the year of our lord, north american natives had devised elaborate methods of crushing the acorns in bedrock mortars, then dunking them in sandy hollows of riverbanks where water was poured over the resulting fine flour until it turned from yellow to white. the natives then cooked it into a mush, eaten hot or cold, cut into squares, or wrapped in leaves and baked in a pit covered in mud.

acorns have been found in archeological digs dating back to 17,000 b.c. which pretty much makes it one of the oldest foods in the world.

a little more recently, in case this makes you want to run out and try some, henry david thoreau considered the acorn a favorite nosh, and called it, “the neglected nut.” john muir, the great naturalist, dined regularly on the acorn bread of the covelo indians in northern california.

so you might want to think twice before stomping your shoe on a nut with such lineage. (and do not fear here, before we go, i will give you my long-harbored acorn cheescake recipe, so you too can have acorns for dinner tonight. or maybe only dessert.)

beyond the pantry, the little nut of the day has much merit. considering it takes six to 24 months to mature up there on the limbs of the oak tree, it is, rightly i’d say, a long-pedigreed symbol for patience. and the acorn grows only in oaks of a certain maturity (that means old, but it’s a polite way of saying so), thus, all around, it is a nut you must wait for. the original slow food, perhaps.

back in rome, ancient rome even, the acorn was built into buildings, on the top of a column, alongside a door, a decoration reminding the anxious old romans, “patience, my friend, is a virtue.”

a bit farther north, the nut of the quercus (that’s latin for oak, don’t you know?) was not lacking either. there’s a fine norse legend that thor, something of a grand poobah in norse-land, once sat out a thunderstorm under an oak tree, and escaped without so much as a singe. so up norse-way, even today, an acorn might be set on a windowsill in the belief that no lightning will come strike your house.

in the 1600s, the acorn was used in sobering ways. literally. a juice extracted from that ol’ bitter nut was foisted on “habitual drunkards,” according to books of the times, and thought to a.) cure them, or b.) give them the strength to withstand the temptations of liquor.

so there you go. consider all that as you traipse through the traps set by all of the towering oaks. when you’re hit in the noggin, know that the nut that just poinged you, is not any nut but a nut of rich and considerable heritage.
then scamper around, collect all that you can, and in no more than a week, you’ll be cookin’. like some sort of squirrel, gone to culinary academy.

here’s the recipe promised, to get you back to your earliest tree-tasting roots…

oh, i should mention this comes from an ex-hippie up in the hills of northern california (but of course). her name, really, is sueellen ocean. and she ditched the san francisco bay, back 31 years, with two toddlers and the hope to live off the land. she learned the hard way, the tummy-ache way, how to turn acorns to dinner.

when she got electricity, in 1991, she sat down at a keyboard and typed up her recipes, into a 35-recipe cookbook and field guide called “acorns and eat ‘em,” which i had on my bookshelf forever, but seem to have squirreled away. hmm. i’ll have to call her, up there in the mountains.

do not fear. i scribbled this down, before the pages were lost. here, then, is her prize-winning guide to…

acorn cheesecake, the recipe:
start with a graham cracker crust. use a preformed crust or grind 2 cups of graham crackers and pat them into a glass pie pan.

1 8-oz. package cream cheese
1/4 C. honey
2 egg whites
1/2 C. leached, ground and strained acorns (see note)
1/2 C. applesauce
1 C. berries

let cream cheese soften at room temperature. mix filling. blend well. (a potato masher works nicely). add filling to crust. bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 325 degrees for 25 minutes. it should set nice and firm. add your favorite topping, strawberries or blueberries.

note: for leached and ground acorns, do this: crack acorns and slip them out of shells. put in a blender with water, then grind to a fairly fine texture. pour acorn and water mix into a jar, with at least five times as much water as acorns. put in the refrigerator. each day, for seven days, pour off the water and add fresh water. on the seventh day, acorns are ready. strain and use in your favorite recipes.

have at it, friends. i just love being your very own missus euell gibbons. the wonders of nature, the lore underfoot, i bring it all to you gladly and full of light heart. there is grace, i’m convinced, even in nuts that fall on your head. if only we stop to consider. which is what you just did. anyone else ever chomped an acorn? or dare to try one? anyone with a nutty tale to tell? or your very own recipe for acorn lasagna (sueellen’s got one, of course…)