Rustic Cran-Pear & Acorn Muffins
Fall and holiday flavors may just be the most distinctive and cherished of all the seasons. Here, some of the usual holiday ingredients combined with one you probably have not used before, the earthy acorn flour, which grounds these lively flavors and ties them together for something totally unique. The Oak tree is one of the most wide spread trees in the world and the acorn was a staple of the human diet going back literally forever (human forever at least). It is seldom used anymore because other grains and nuts are easier to make into flours on a large scale. I think it’s a worthwhile project to collect acorns and process them into flour which it can be stored long term. The flour is sweet and earthy, a really interesting flavor. Acorns are also full of minerals, much more than other cereal grains. Other nut flours do work well and honestly are easier to find, such as almond, hazelnut and chestnut. Each flour changes the flavor and consistency a little but I have tried them and they all work as does mixing two of the flours together. If you can’t find these flours the nuts can all be made into flour by simply grinding them in a coffee or spice grinder.
Holiday Cranberry-Pear & Acorn Muffins
1 pear, unripe-barely ripe
2 large handfuls fresh cranberries
1 cup acorn flour recipe follows (substitute chestnut, hazelnut, or almond flour)
1 tsp Bob’s Red Mill aluminum free baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, divided
4 tbsp real maple syrup
1/4 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 350. Slice each cranberry in half and chop pears into slices, then dice pear into smaller pieces leaving the skin on. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp cinnamon on pears and cranberries and tumble to mix with hands. In a bowl add flour, baking soda, tsp cinnamon, and salt and whisk. In a 2nd bowl add eggs, syrup, melted butter and whisk. Add dry mix to wet mix and continue to stir to get good batter consistency, add cranberries. Either use muffin tin liners or generously grease a muffin tin with room temperature butter or cooking spray (butter is hard to beat though). Next fill each tin about 1/3 full with the mix. Divide the pear pieces and place on top of each muffin. gently push them down so they sink in. Bake for 15-20 minutes, a quick finger poke will let you know when they are ready, acorn flour & hazelnut flour about 15 min, almond & chestnut flour 20 min. Let cool for a few minutes but not too long, muffins are meant to be eaten warm. Recipe makes 8-10 muffins.
The incredible edible Acorn
The Oregon White Oak has a large range that begins in British Columbia and runs through the Willamette valley into California. Acorns can be collected and eaten from any oak tree but many of the other varieties are very bitter and require more work to process. Fortunately our own native White Oak yields superior acorns so I just collect from this tree. All acorns have bitter tannins but the White Oak has far less and is therefore easier to process. The White Oak is very easy to identify as it has rounded margins on its leaves and elongated acorns whereas other oaks such as the inferior Black Oak have straight margins on the leaves and rounded acorns. Oak trees tend to have huge crops of acorns some years and almost none other years, so when when life gives you acorns, make… acorn flour!
Acorn flour is a rare food item and although we are all surrounded by acorns each fall, chances are you have never tasted it. Euell Gibbons, the modern guru of foraging calls acorns “ancient food of man” and “staff of life” for humans before cereal grains made their appearance in our diet. This alone peeked my interest in this food. Making acorn flour (probably the best use of the acorn) is not quick to make but relatively easy and well worthwhile if you make a large batch when acorns are abundant. You can then use the flour several times throughout the fall and winter. When acorns are ready to crack they will be brown, not still green. They can be collected and allowed to dry in a cardboard box if they seem to be too ripe. Acorns store very well so this process can be done in stages.
any mass of White Oak acorns
Begin by cracking each acorn and removing the fruit from each as you would any other nut. You can use a hammer or nutcracker. This is really the only time consuming step. Once you have all the fruit harvested, add to a blender and fill with enough cold water to cover by an inch or two. Puree as much as you can, getting it as fine as your blender allows. Poor into a canning jar and store in a cool place preferably below room temperature as this will keep from spoiling. The next day the water will have floated to the top (with the bitter tannins). Just pour it off and add more cold water. Shake jar and repeat the following day. It usually takes 3 days (times) to finish the process. You can do this once a day or twice, morning and evening which tends to speed up the process. After the 3rd day taste the flour mush. It should no longer be bitter, so if it is continue to leach out the tannins for up to 2 more days. When ready line a strainer with cheese cloth and fill with your wet acorn flour. Let it sit for an hour or two and then squeeze out the remaining water. Spread flour on a baking sheet and put in middle oven rack at 200 degrees for about an hour or until it dries. Check and mix it at least once. Next, blend dry flour in blender, or better yet, a coffee grinder. The finer you can get it the better it will be. Sometimes if it remains course it will be more like a meal than flour which is okay too, but is not as effective as a flour substitute.