Which is Better--Acorn Bread or Dark Chocolate Cake?
You decide! Here's how we'll prepare it.
First, all cooking by the Pomo was done outdoors and mostly in a basket with hot stones. In this way liquids were stone-boiled and seeds toasted. To prevent burning through the bottom of the basket, the cook would first soak the basket in water.
There were other methods of cooking too. A lesser-known recipe calls for cooking in an underground earthen oven--for acorn bread. A conventional oven can be used but an earthen oven is much more adventurous and soulful.
As for collecting the acorns, there are many oak species in California. The Pomo peoples usually preferred to use those they found abundant on their own land. Compared with the tanoak (which is not technically a Quercis, so a different species altogether) the Black Oak acorn is generally preferred for taste (so I hear). Luckily it is abundant on our five acres too so this is the species I will use when I try this recipe.
Generally when collecting acorns, you refrain from using the ones that fall early from the tree. This is because early falling is an indicator of a flaw. Later when the wind blows them down, they are good to collect. They need to feel heavy and have a fully formed nut. Eliminate the light, imperfect ones and of course avoid those with larvae.
Did you know that you're actually lucky if you get any acorns at all! This is because oak trees are--like the pecan trees on the East Coast where the Potawatomi people live--in some years non-productive. Sometimes they require two years in order to store up enough energy to produce a good crop of nuts.
So now that you've collected the acorns, lay them out to dry in a clean, dry, flat place. I've heard that if the healthy ones haven't been allowed to become moldy they will store for years especially if the shells are left on.
Crack and split! When you're ready to grind the flour, crack the hulls of the dried acorns with a stone or hammer. Remove the outer hulls and try to keep the nutmeats intact. Split the nuts of the acorns at the crease with a knife while at the same time removing the red skins that cover them.
Bring out the mortar and pestle! Pound the cleaned and dried nutmeats to a fine powder. A hint to pounding is to let the heavy pestle drop from shoulder height into the mortar rhythmically.
Sift or screen out the coarse particles from the flour with metal sifter or sieve. If needed further pound the coarse particles. Keep adding the nutmeats until you have enough fine powder for a small loaf about two inches high. (Okay, I hear you. You can also use a spice or coffee grinder!) This is your acorn bread loaf.
Rinse! You've most likely heard of the tannic acid that must be leached from acorns in order to remove the bitterness. Line a sieve, basket or colander with a clean dish towel. Run the flour under water or pour water into it several times. Taste it in several places to ensure you've rinsed it enough. Shape the loaf and wrap it to make a bundle. The wrap can be a big-leaf maple, fern leaf or wild grape. Then wrap it again with a wet gunny sack or similar cloth to keep the bundle moist.
Make the oven! Dig a hole in the earth slightly larger than your wrapped acorn bread loaf bundle. Make separately a hardwood fire (Manzanita is prevalent here so that would be my choice). Hardwood is necessary as this will make the coals last overnight. Softwood will turn to ash too quickly.
Charge the oven! Line the underground oven with rocks and shovel in the hot coals. Then place the wrapped loaf bundle right onto the coals. Shovel more coals on top. Add sand and earth on top to seal it. Bake overnight for about twelve hours.
Good morning! Remove the bundle carefully. Try to keep soil from falling into the food. Also don't burn yourself on the coals!
Unwrap your acorn bread loaf. It will be wonderfully steamed and dark like chocolate cake-- ready for you to enjoy!
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