Foraging for Acorns

I have always wondered what acorns tasted like.  It seems that everywhere you look in the Willamette valley you see oaks trees.  Which is a remanent of the oak savanna that used to exist across the valley years ago.  The most common one in the area is the Oregon white oak.  During my daily lunch walks at work I pass several oaks that are loaded this year with acorns.  On a good year a mature oak can have close to 2000 pounds of acorns on it.  I havent seen any with close to that many on them this year.  So with my handy bucket I picked up a couple of gallons of acorns to experiment with and see how they taste, and how long it takes to process them to eat.  Acorns are high in tannin and cannot be eaten in their raw form.  The tannin makes them very bitter and if you eat them it will bind with proteins and make you constipated.  Which is also why if you get diarrhea while out in the woods you can make a quick up of hot acorn tea and it will bind you back up.

The first you need to do while gathering acorns is to make sure you don’t pick up any with little holes in them.  The holes are caused by the acorn weevil grub.  This hole is not caused by it getting into the nut it is caused by them boring out from the inside.  By the time they get through the shell they have eaten almost the entire nut.  After you have gathered them fill up the bucket with water and remove any that float.  These are the ones that the grub has not broken through on yet.  It will save you from having to open them and then tossing them out. After you have sorted your acorns you can either dry them in the oven at as low a setting as it will do or put them in a dehydrator.  I put mine in the dehydrater at 120 F for 3 days.  This accomplishes two things, the first dry the nut, and the second kills any eggs or grubs that might be inside the nut.  Out of the gallon nuts I have cracked open I only saw three with grubs in them.

There are two main methods for leaching out the tannin that I found after doing a little research.  Well methods that are used today anyway.  There are many ways that have been used by cultures all over the world to leach out the tannin.  The first method is to leach out the tannin in cold water.  Grind up the nuts and put them in a jar with twice the amount of water as you have nuts.  Each day pour off the colored water and refill with clean water.  Depending on the type of acorn that you have will determine the level of tannin in the nut.  The white oak have low tannin levels so will only require 3-5 days to leach out the tannin.  take a pinch of ground nut and taste it to see if it is ready.  You will get a slight bitter taste at first then it will be a bit bland to sweet.  Pour the water and nuts into a cloth lined colander and drain off all the water. After you get all the water out you can dry it out in the oven or a dehydrator.  This method will give you a flour that will bind together and will work great in breads (I have yet to try this)

The second method is to boil the tannin out of the nuts.  This involves using two pots of boiling water to leach out the tannin.  If you put the acorns in cold water at any time after starting the boil it will lock in the tannin and you will never be able to get them out. Bring both pots of water to a boil and add your acorns to one of them.  Boil for 10-15 minutes and drain.  Then pour the acorns into the other pot of boiling water.  Then refill the first pot and bring it back to a boil.  Repeat until you can taste an acorn and don’t taste any more bitterness from the tannin.  For the white oak acorns I had pick it took 4 changes of water to get them to the point that they didn’t taste bitter. Kinda taste like boiled peanuts at this point.  Drain off the water from the last boil and then dry the nuts either in the oven on low or in a dehydrator.  After being dried my acorns were very hard and not really a nut you could just grab a handful and eat.

The first thing i made with my acorns was a batch of trail bars.  I replaced the hazelnuts I normally use for some coarsely ground acorns.  They gave it a different flavor and more of a crunch then the normal.  Once I run the course ground nuts through the coffee grinder I am going to try some in a batch bread and see how they taste.  Homemade bread sounds good anyway.

Shelled raw acorns before they are processed
Shelled raw acorns before they are processed
First boil less then a minute after I dropped the acorns into the water.  The water was almost black.  I saved the water from the first boil to put on my poison oak to dry up the blisters
First boil less than a minute after I dropped the acorns into the water. The water was almost black. I saved the water from the first boil to put on my poison oak to dry up the blisters
Acorns after all the tanning is leached out of them
Acorns after all the tanning is leached out of them
Dried acorns in the grinder getting ready to get a nice course grind
Dried acorns in the grinder getting ready to get a nice coarse grind
ground acorns
Course grind of the acorns made them about the same size as corn grits. For a fine flour they just need to be ran through a coffee grinder

Homemade tomato sauce

And the harvest begins!  First batch of tomatoes are picked and it is time to make some tomato sauce.  Making tomato sauce is a long time-consuming process, but it is a great feeling knowing that everything that is in it is something that I grew out of the garden. Except the onion….my onions have been horrible the last couple years.  This is a canning recipe so after you have it completed you can water bath can it.  Then enjoy it until next tomato season. This recipe is from the Ball blue book of canning.  I usually add extra garlic and the thyme to my sauce.

ingredients:

  • 20 lb tomatoes (about 60 medium)
  • 3 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 cup chopped onion (about 1 large)
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely minced, fresh basil
  • ¼ tsp Ball® Citric Acid or 1 Tbsp bottled lemon juice per hot jar
  • 7 (16 oz) pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands
First picking of tomatoes
First picking of tomatoes

Directions:

1.) PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
2.) WASH tomatoes; drain. Remove core and blossom ends. Cut into quarters. Set aside.
3.) SAUTE onion and garlic in olive oil until transparent. Add tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4.) PUREE tomato mixture in a food processor or blender, working in batches. Strain puree to remove seeds and peel.  (I use an immersion blender and just puree seeds and peels.  It takes too much time to remove the seeds and peels.  And I have never noticed a taste difference.)
5.) COMBINE tomato puree and basil in large sauce pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until volume is reduced by half, stirring to prevent sticking.
6.) ADD ¼ tsp Ball® Citric Acid or 1 Tbsp bottled lemon juice to each hot jar. Ladle hot sauce into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Center hot lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.
7.) PROCESS filled jars in a boiling water canner for 35 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check for seal after 24 hours. Lids should not flex up and down when center is pressed.
sliced tomatoes stewing and cooking down.
sliced tomatoes stewing and cooking down.

 

Pureed tomato sauce reducing down the rest of the of the way.
Pureed tomato sauce reducing down the rest of the of the way.

 

curried beef jerky noodles

compleated bowl of curried jerky noodles.  Delicious!
completed bowl of curried jerky noodles. Delicious!

Now that I have dried out some jerky and veggies it is time to start trying them in quick recipes for hiking and hunting time. Better to try them out and adjust them to taste now at home then make something horrible to eat in the woods. This recipe is a variation of one that I saw in backpacker magazine. The original recipe called for some raisins in it. I am not a fan of sweet with my foods unless it is on its own.

Ingredients:

  • 1⁄4 cup chopped jerky (regular or Cajun)
  • 1⁄4 cup dried vegetable mix
  • 1⁄8 cup raisins (Optional)
  • 1⁄2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 beef bullion cube
  • 1⁄2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 3 oz package chuka soba noodles whole or crumbled (also called chow mein noodles)

Cooking Instructions:
At home: Pack everything through the garlic in a sandwich bag. Pack the chuka soba in a second sandwich bag.

In camp/woods:
Add 2 cups water to your pot with the first bag and bring to a boil. Add in the noodles, return to a boil and let simmer gently for 3 minutes. Take off the stove, cover tightly and let sit for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt, if desired.

Observations/things to tweak: Just as is this is a great recipe. The time to boil for the jerky and veggie mix needs to be increased to a couple minutes. The veggies and Jerky were still in need of a little more hydration. As a meal for camping this is very quick and easy. A handful of dried or fresh mushrooms would be a great addition. I didn’t think about adding them until after I finished it.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage is one of those great multi purpose herbs.  My favorite use is to add it to breakfast sausage.  There are multiple cultivars of sage that you can get from any garden center.  Lemon sage, mint sage, ect.  Way to many varieties to list.  But which ever variety you pick you will find that they are very easy to grow. Sage is a perennial, evergreen subshrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the family Lamiaceae and is native to the Mediterranean region, though it has naturalized in many places throughout the world. It has a long history of medicinal and culinary use, and in modern times as an ornamental garden plant. The common name “sage” is also used for a number of related and unrelated species.

My single sage plant has grown huge in the last year.
My single sage plant has grown huge in the last year.

Sage is an easy herb to grow, putting up with conditions far from optimum. However, the closer you can imitate its native habitat, the happier it will be. Ideal conditions are full sun, good drainage, a soil pH of 5 to 8, and moderate fertility. You don’t want to plant it in a heavy clay soil.  The lack of drainage will water log the roots and tend to kill the plant. Mine is in a raised bed so it almost drains to well and tends to get very dry during summer months.  Luckily it loves that and grows and grows and grows.

Now some of you may be wondering what you can do with sage. Generally, it is the plain narrow-leafed varieties and the non-flowering broad-leafed varieties of sage that are used as cooking herbs. It is a common condiment for Mediterranean dishes, specifically Italian foods. It is generally used in marinades for meat, fish, pork sausage, lamb and even vegetables like peas, eggplants, lima beans and carrots. It is the perfect seasoning for poultry. Interestingly enough, sage is used in the preparation of English Sage Derby cheese and other soft cheeses. It is also used as a flavoring in certain biscuits, scones, breads and other baked foods. I should try to make a Sage Derby style cheese one of these days.

Sage herb can be used both internally and externally to counteract various health problems in humans. It curbs excessive sweating, treats depression, nervous anxiety and liver disorders and is also a great cure for several skin conditions. It is also used for treating painful jellyfish stings and spider bites. Sage herb is the perfect antiseptic wash for dirty wounds and forms a part of most concoctions that treat persistent and recurrent coughs (adding it to horehound tea works best for me). The mixture of sage, white vinegar and water forms a good astringent for oily skin. It is also one of the best herbal remedies for indigestion.

Sage is known to contain natural estrogens, and hence, is used in most homeopathic medicines that improve circulation and treat menopausal problems. It is also used to relieve suppressed menstruation problems in women, as well as in the regulation of abnormal flow. Sage acts as a central nervous system stimulant and is also used in the treatment of varicose veins. This herb is also used in gargling solutions used to ease laryngitis and tonsillitis. The July 2003 issue of the ‘Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior’ claims that sage has the power to improve memory. Sage is an all-in-one herb. It is also an antifungal antiseptic. This estrogenic agent works miracles in women. It is also a hypoglycemic astringent and is a good antispasmodic agent. Sage is one of those herbs that tastes great and is very good for you.

My sage plant blooming in late May
My sage plant blooming in late May

 

 

Homemade Jerky

With hiking and fishing season starting it is nice to have a good high protean snack to take along with you. And it is a good survival food to know how to make. In the most basic form jerky is lean salted meat that has been air-dried. In the olden times many a traveler would put meat under the saddle of their horse as they traveled. The salt from the horse sweating was enough to preserve the meat for a short period of time. Since I don’t have a horse or a reason to ride around the countryside I use two different types of salt to make my jerky. It is plain salt or soy sauce. Soy sauce has more than enough salt in it to provide all you need.

For this recipe I am using soy sauce as the salt source for this batch of jerky. Jerky is extremely easy to make with little effort. The main thing you want in making jerky is a good quality lean meat. This same recipe works great with wild game also. This recipe is for two pounds of meat. You can increase the amount if you want to do more at a time. This is about all that my dehydrator will hold also. After you get your meat cut it across the grain into strips about 1/4 inch thick. If you do not cut it across the grain it will make it much chewier. I don’t like mine to take 30 minutes to chew one piece. Put all of your sliced meat into a glass or ceramic bowl. Do not use metal because the marinade will dissolve some of the metal and change the taste of the meat. This is true with almost all marinades.

marinade :

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • and a little water to cover the meat

Mix up the marinade and pour over the sliced meat. Mix up well then add as much water as you need to just get to the top of the meat. For this batch it was only 1 cup of water.

Meat sliced up and marinade added
Meat sliced up and marinade added

Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight. Drain and pat dry the meat after it has marinated, Then lay the strips out in a single layer and let dry in the dehydrator until the meat bends but doesn’t break. In mine this takes about 24 hours. After it is done let cool back off and put into ziplock bags. If you are not eating it within a week or two you can put it in the freezer. With little to no water or fat in the meat it will last a long time before it goes bad. I tend to eat it quickly so none of mine lasts more than a month before I have to make more.

Spring tomato planting

One of the favorites of most backyard gardeners is the wonderful tomato.  There are so many things that you can make with tomatoes.  Tomato sauce, salsa, tomato juice, dehydrated tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes, and many more.  And we can’t forget my favorite use!  As an ingredient in my tomato-basil feta.  Or as someone at work call’s it “pizza cheese goodness”

two of my tomato starts at the base of wire cages that i made into a fence instead of a square.
two of my tomato starts at the base of wire cages that i made into a fence instead of a square.

This year for growing my tomatoes I am trying a method that I have seen my father use year after year.  He never uses cages or fancy holders to stake up his plants.  All he does is stake up a 15 foot piece of old wire fencing and plant his tomatoes every 18 inches or so along the bottom edge.  He then ties them up to the fence as they grow.  This keeps them off the ground and allows for the tomatoes to grow sideways along the fence.  As lower shoots on the plant grow they are cut off so that all the plant energy goes to putting on fruit instead of growing lots of leaves.

As an added boost to my plants I also added one teaspoon of epsom salt to the soil at planting time.  Every time I have added it I get a huge boost to the total output of the plant.  This years planting is less than I have planted some years.  Four San Marzano tomatoes (paste tomatoes for sauce), two Brandywine tomatoes,  one early girl tomato, and a multi colored cherry tomato that my sister bought me seeds for at Christmas.  The cherry tomato is an heirloom variety so if it tastes good I will save some seeds for it for next year.  For those of you on a budget it is really a saver to grow veggies from seeds.  A couple of dollors for a pack of seeds instead of the same price for a single plant.

tips for growing tomatoes:

  1.  Bury tomato plants deeper than they come in the pot, all the way up to a few top leaves. Tomatoes are able to develop roots all along their stems. You can either dig a deeper hole or simply dig a shallow tunnel and lay the plant sideways. It will straighten up and grow toward the sun. Be careful not to drive your pole or cage into the stem.
  2. Mulch after the ground has had a chance to warm up. Mulching does conserve water and prevents the soil and soil borne diseases from splashing up on the plants, but if you put it down too early it will also shade and therefore cool the soil.
  3. Pinch and remove suckers that develop in the crotch joint of two branches. They won’t bear fruit and will take energy away from the rest of the plant. But go easy on pruning the rest of the plant. You can thin leaves to allow the sun to reach the ripening fruit, but it’s the leaves that are photosynthesizing and creating the sugars that give flavor to your tomatoes.
  4. Water deeply and regularly while the plants are developing. Irregular watering, (missing a week and trying to make up for it), leads to blossom end rot and cracking. This is very important if you have Roma type tomatoes!!!! Once the fruit begins to ripen, lessening the water will coax the plant into concentrating its sugars. Don’t withhold water so much that the plants wilt and become stressed or they will drop their blossoms and possibly their fruit.
  5. Determinate type tomatoes tend to set and ripen their fruit all at one time, (Roma types) making a large quantity available when you’re ready to make sauce. You can get indeterminate type tomatoes (early girl, Willamette, cherry tomatoes) to set fruit earlier by pinching off the tips of the main stems in early summer.
  6. Plant tomatoes where they will receive at least 10 hours of direct sunlight.  The more they get the better they will produce.
  7. Do not fertilize with a high nitrogen type fertilizer.  It will cause lots of leaf growth but very few tomatoes.  A good compost will provide most of what the plant needs for the growing season.