I listened as my friend Ada swept and gathered Acorns off her driveway. She heatedly complained about the worthlessness of the nuts that fell from the Oak tree that grew nearby.
“Don’t the squirrels eat them?” I asked, thinking of my backyard walnut tree and developing a new respect for the squirrels that pick it clean each fall.
“We don’t have any squirrels,” she responded with venomous emphasis as she continued to sweep.
“I wonder if Acorns are edible.” I said, trying to be helpful.
Later that evening the subject of the Acorns came up again and we decided to find out if there could be a purpose beyond the irritation of crunching ground cover. To assist in our Internet search, Ada brought out her laptop computer and two bottles of plum wine made by my now ex-son-in-law, Kirk. Our search accompanied by the wine resulted in a night filled with shear silliness and laughter.
We discovered that Acorns are edible, specifically for making Acorn flour for bread, but only if one is willing to put forth the effort. That effort includes removing the shells, chopping the meat into pieces and then boiling the bitterness out by submerging the shelled nut meat into several pots of boiling water for 10-15 minutes each time and then draining it before turning it into flour. The instructions warned against putting the meat of the nuts into water that is not fully boiling because it would lock in the bitter taste. “Nice!” We exclaimed in unison.
This particular Acorn Bread recipe also called for “Cattail” flour. We looked at each other and burst out laughing again. “Look that up,” I said while holding my hurting stomach and slopping wine down my chin.
This search wet our appetite for adventure. We discovered that first we needed to adorn wading boots, head for the nearest swamp, which in Kansas is known as a ditch filled with muddy water, and dig the corms, small pointed shoots that grow from the cattail’s root. We would then need to boil the corms, mash them, remove the fibers and spread them on a cookie sheet to dry in the sun or in a low oven before grinding them into flour.
We drank a little more wine, laughed harder and then called a number of other friends to share our discovery. All listened patiently, rolled their eyes and wished us happy bread making.
The next day I left Ada and the Acorns behind as I made my way to visit my brother in California. That evening, Ada called to tell me she shared the Acorn story with a number of women at a group meeting. “Nobody laughed,” she said. “I guess it isn’t as funny without the wine.”
A couple of days after that, Ada called again. She and another friend laughed through the receiver as they discussed more recipes involving wild flour. “Okay,” I said, rolling my eyes. “It was the wine.”
While I am not ready to head out to the swamp in my wading boots to dig cattail roots, I do like to bake bread. Certainly, a single cook can make several loaves at a time, which is what most yeast bread recipes call for, and freeze the extra, but frozen bread, in my opinion, looses some of its appeal. I prefer to make it a loaf at a time and eat it while it is fresh.
To solve the problem of pre-measured packaged yeast, which is too much when making just one loaf, I purchase bulk yeast and keep it in the freezer. That way I can measure the small amount I want each time I make a loaf of bread. I also keep flour in the freezer so it stays fresh. I then measure the amount I need and leave it to come to room temperature before making the bread.
1 Cup lukewarm water (110°F)
2 Teaspoons sugar or honey
½ Teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon active dry yeast
1 Cup whole-wheat flour
1-2 Cups all-purpose or bread flour
1. Mix sugar, salt and yeast in water and allow to set 5-10 minutes, until mixture foams.
2. Mix one cup whole-wheat flour and one cup all-purpose or bread flour in large mixing bowl.
3. Pour yeast mixture into flour and mix well. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough.
4. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until elastic, 5-10 minutes, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.
5. Place the dough in lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean dish towel and allow to rise until double in bulk, 1-2 hours, depending on altitude and room temperature.
6. Remove dough from bowl, punch down and shape as desired. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet, cover again with dishtowel and allow to rise until double in bulk, 1-2 hours.
7. Preheat oven to 350°F. Using a bread knife, cut 1/8-inch slits across top of loaf and bake 40-50 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 200°F.
8. Place on a wire rack and allow to cool completely before slicing.
Chef’s note: My hand-held mixer came with bread hooks, which I use to mix the yeast into the flour. This cuts down on kneading time considerably. When testing the temperature, I role the loaf over on its top and insert a meat thermometer through the bottom. If the temperature is a little low, role the loaf back over and cook a few minutes longer.
Ingredient note: I like to use unbleached white whole-wheat flour that I order from King Arthur Flour (kingarthurflour.com). The site also offers bulk yeast.