Friday, September 11, 2015

Intermission: Cooking acorns

Now we are approaching to the season of acorns. So, in this post, I report my cooking adventure of acorns last year. Actually, I nurtured my ambition for eating acorns that can be found very easily in almost any forests of Yokohama. They looked so appetizing. My ambition grew year by year … 

There were several excavations of prehistoric settlements in Japanese archipelago where researchers found numerous evidences of our ancestors eating nuts, acorns inclusive. Meanwhile, some of my friends told me their mums warned not to cook or eat acorns since “They are bad for your memorizing skills!” Hmmmmmmmmmmm … are they a kind of tranquilizer? Another friend taught me eating acorns are quite common and traditional in Tohoku area of Japan and in Korean peninsula. The most traditional Korean recipe is dotorimuk (or tot'orimuk), i.e. acorn jelly, she said. Well, at least, they are edible, then. Last year, a book was published from Yamakei Library, titled “I’ll be a stone-age man!” written by Hideki Sekine (2014,ヤマケイ文庫「縄文人になる!縄文式生活技術教本」関根秀樹著). There, Sekine explains how to cook acorns. Хорошо! So, I followed his instructions at first …

1. I collected acorns.
I’ve been to the forest of 2014 Art Exhibition in the Forest of Yokohama, and collected acorns of sawtooth oaks for about 2kg. That forest had many other acorns as well, but I thought large acorns of sawtooth oaks were “cost effective.” It was INDEED so.

Sawtooth oaks
and beneath.
There was one of the installations for 2014 Exhibition,
“Wind Communicator”
by Katsuyuki Ishiyama and Takeshi Fududa.

2. I washed acorns.
At this stage, I discarded acorns with cracks and warm holes.

3. I soaked acorns in fresh water for 3 days.
I changed water in the morning and evening. I thought peeling the skin of acorns would be similar to peeling the skin of chest nuts. Some of those worms within the acorns came out and drowned. Amen.

Water became brownish, though transparent.

4. I peeled the skin of acorns, and soaked the skinned acorns in fresh water again for about 1 week.
What I learned: Acorns are very hard to skin. All of my fingers got blistered, and the scars remained until spring. In the process, I beheaded several worms hided within the nuts … Amen, amen. I changed water every morning and evening as before.

5. When the water became somehow less brownish, I crashed the acorns in the food processor, and soaked the acorn meals again for a week.
I several times strained the meal by cheese cloth, and returned them to the clean water. Up to this point, it was as written in the book. The water became somehow transparent in the morning after a week or so, but still brownish, which Sekine did not mention. So, I decided to take the matter in a different direction from the book.

The water was murky
immediately after soaking the acorn meal.
A week later

6. I decided to boil the acorn meals.
The acorn meals rendered lots of lye. So probably what I did was not that bad.

The pan was full of lye. 
7. When the pan reached to the boil, I removed it from the heat, and strained the acorn meals with cheese cloth. 
After letting it cool, I stored it in a Ziploc bag. 2kg acorns became 650 g acorn meal.

Immediately after heating
Acorn meal in a ziploc
(er, well, IKEA bag, really)

The acorn meal I made was probably too coarse for making dotorimuk; it did not settle. I mixed it with agar powder for the muk. The taste was … very light (or “no taste at all”). It was strange because the acorn meal itself remained somehow oily after boiling. It may be because of agar. I did not use all the acorn meal for dotorimuk. They kept well in the freezer, and I used the remaining meal for “Acorn Bread” later in winter. I substituted bananas with acorn meal for the standard recipe of banana bread. The bread had a distinctively nutty flavor, which was different from any other bread. Success!

But … reaching to this point, I found myself not being tempted to collect acorns to eat any more … I still had aching fingers with scars of blisters. I now know why many of our ancestors stopped eating acorns … we are impatient bunch. People in Tohoku and Korea are awesome!

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