Thursday 15 January 2009

Wild Food Guide and Recipes A to Z

Wild Food Guide and Recipes A to Z

Following my A to Z guide of recipes and cookery I'm now starting on a new guide... This time it's to wild foods and recipes incorporating wild ingredients. It might be strange, starting this A to Z guide of wild foods in Winter. However, there are winter wild foods such as wintercress and some mushrooms and as the end of February approaches new wild foods will start to become available for our plates once more. So, now might actually be a good time to begin this guide.

Wild Foods Guide 'A'

This is the first of my series of 26 postings on wild foods. Each post will deal with a separate letter of the alphabet ('A' today) and will describe a wild food beginning with that letter as well as presenting a classic recipe incorporating that wild food.

Today I'm dealing with the letter 'A' which includes foods such as Alexanders (Alisanders), Alliums, Apples and Acorns. Today, however I am going to devote this page to Acorns.

Acorns nutty fruit of the various species of the genus Quercus (oak trees). The acorn itself is a nut, containing a single seed, enclosed in a tough, leathery shell, and borne in a cup-shaped cupule. There are almost 130 species of oaks, all of which generate acorns of one description or other.

Only mature oaks produce acorns and mature oak trees and mature oaks are extremely tough. As a result oak trees will bear their fruit even during the worst droughts. This is why acorns, turned into acorn flour were a survival food during times of drought in all periods up to and including the Middle Ages and why they were very important to the diet of many native Americans.

It should also be remembered that the Europe of the past was a continent of broad-leaved oak-based forests. Oak trees were the natural biological climax and oak trees covered the entire continent. As a result oaks would have been in abundance and acorns along with acorn flour would have been a staple of the diet. Despite this, European (and especially the English oak, Quercus robur contain lots more tannin than their North American equivaent, Quercus alba. Tannins are toxic and though roasting removes some tannins the only effective way to leach tannins from acorns is to soak them repeatedly in water. Our ancestors probably suspended baked and shelled acorns in streams for several days before rendering the acorns into flour.

The recipe blow is for a pan bread based on acorn flour, which includes a description of how to safely prepare acorns.

Acorn Pan Bread

2 tsp yeast
2 tsp honey
180ml warm water
900g acorn flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
3 tsp oil

During the autumn collect ripe acorns. Place on a baking tray and dry roast them in an oven on it's lowest setting for at least 5 hours. When the acorns are done crack and shell them. Place them in water in a large bucket and allow to soak for at least a week. Change the water at least twice a day. This process leaches away the tannin which is what makes acorns bitter (tannin in large quantities is toxic so you need to complete this process carefully).

When you think you have soaked the acorns long enough bite into an acorn. If it still tastes bitter then soak for longer. If you can only detect a trace of bitterness, or no bitterness then the acorns are ready. Grind the acorns whilst still wet either in a cofee grinder or a blender. Place the resultant meal in pans or on baking trays and place to dry either in the sun or in an oven on its lowest setting. When dry you can store the flour in sealed jars.

Dissolve the honey in the water and add the yeast to activate. Add 3 tsp flour and leave the mixture in a warm place until foamy. Once the yeast is nicely active combine with the flour, salt and baking powder, along with the oil. Knead together, cover the dough and allow to rise in a warm place for an hour. Knock the dough back then knead once again and allow the dough to raise once more. Place the dough in a cast iron casserole and allow to rise until doubled in volume. Cover the pot and allow to bake in an oven pre-heated to 190°C for 45 minutes.

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Acorn Pan Bread Recipe from the Celtnet Recipes Collection.

This guide is brought to you in conjunction with the Celtnet Wild Food Recipes collection.

You can find more wild foods beginning with the letter 'A' on the Wild Food Guide for the letter 'A', part of the Celtnet Wild Food Guide.

For all the wild food recipes on this blog, see the wild food recipes page.

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