Bread and Thread: Acorns

Opening music

Liz

Hello and welcome to bread and thread, a podcast about food and domestic history. I’m liz.

Hazel

And I’m hazel. We’re two friends who studied archaeology together and love history and also making things, so what have you been making?

LIZ

So people might have seen on my instagram when this goes up it will be about a month ago, time is confusing – I have a penguin book of knitting, which is knitting patterns from 1957.

HAZEL

Excellent.

LIZ

So I’m making myself a sweater vest from that. Cause I’ve always wanted one and now I decided to do it.

HAZEL

That is really cool.

LIZ

It’s got 3 lines of cabling up the front it’s really cute.

HAZEL

Is that on your instagram cause I haven’t seen that I will go check it out.

LIZ

Also I’ve been looking at this youtube channel and website a lot the youtube is immaculate bites but the website is african bites it’s african and carribean food and she has this mango lemonade recipe which is the most refreshing thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. It’s absolutely spectacular. She says to put sugar in but I can’t imagine putting sugar in cause it was really sweet, the kind of sweet tartness with homemade lemonade and the mango is like – can drinks be unctuous cause it was unctuous.

HAZEL

I think mango can be unctuous. I want this, I have needs.

LIZ

I shall send you the recipe, maybe I’ll tweet a link.

HAZEL

That would be great yeah. We can all have a virtual mango and lemonade party.

LIZ

What have you been up to?

HAZEL

On the subject of historical knitting, I have discovered a youtube channel called engineering knits, which is a woman who does a lot of historical knitting patterns but she makes them really accessible and has tips on how to work with 19th century patterns and that sort of thing. I would really recommend that. Also the stitch in time books which I do not have but really want and I might get one next month. They have a lot of vintage or older knitting patterns that are updated for the modern day and those are really good. I’ve seen things knitted from those patterns and they are great. That’s the things I really want to do and I- I did make gnocchi for the first time. It went really good, a little soft but pretty tasty, with a nice homemade tomato and basil sauce. They were good and relaxing to make.

LIZ

Do you get into that kind of meditative state you get into like while you’re knitting.

HAZEL

Sort of yeah, you’re doing the mashing and doing the kneading and you just yeah just making the little gnocchs and shaping them. It’s kind of yeah. Kind of therapeutic, so more gnocchi will be happening.

LIZ

So what are we learning about today?

HAZEL

Get ready for big facts about acorns. I picked this one cause it’s getting to be a bit autumnal, was going on a walk it’s warm right now but-

LIZ

When this goes up it’ll be cold.

HAZEL

Yeah. One would hope at least, please, and so I was crunching along in this walk and acorns were falling and I thought I heard you can do a lot with acorns I should find out about that and I did and it turns out there’s a whole episode worth of acorn facts so I hope you are ready for this.

LIZ

I am ready willing and able to learn about acorns.

HAZEL

That is what I want to hear. And this fits into bread and thread because you can eat them you can – you shouldn’t eat them raw as they can be toxic, they might not kill you, they can give you a bad stomach ache if you ate a lot raw, but they are toxic to horses, cows and dogs which is a problem as horses will eat them.

LIZ

The dog one is interesting cause my dog used to like to pick up green acorns and eat them off the floor.

HAZEL

Interesting. Well I hopefully not too many um I think it’s in large quantities that they can be fatal. So the reason they taste horrible to eat is they contain a lot of tannins which makes them bitter, which is the thing that is supposed to be good for you in wine, but in acorns they taste horrible. But with clever processing they can be eaten and in some places can be a staple food.

LIZ

I’ve heard of in some places them being used for flour?

HAZEL

Yeah I remember going to an iron age day where they were making things from acorn flour little drop scones but it turns out they’ve been eaten for 100s if not 1000s of years so they can be made into flour like I said they can be roasted you can eat them roasted you can also get acorn coffee which technically isn’t coffee it’s not from a coffee bean you roast them and you grind them.

LIZ

Like how herbal teas aren’t really teas.

HAZEL

Yeah you get something that’s satisfying that craving if you can’t get coffee as we’ll go into in a bit. So acorns of course are the fruit of the oak tree which is native to europe, north america and western asia which is where a lot of the ancient uses of acorns come from and of course they’ve been planted all over there world, but in fact – are they native to north america they might be…

LIZ

You tell me!

HAZEL

They may well be. Basically anywhere in the northern hemisphere you’ve got acorns. So some years you’ll get an extra big crop and that’s a mast year, the fruit of trees is often called the mast.

LIZ

I got excited cause I was reading about this the other day.

HAZEL

Awesome where?

LIZ

Twitter? I follow a lot of conservationists and nature people. I follow a lot of conservationists but the nature kind here.

HAZEL

You’re great. It’s a year where there’s an extra big crop of acorns and apparently that’s because they try to put out the trees put out so many they put out so many one year they can’t possibly all get eaten by wildlife and some survive to become oak trees, but in the year following you get very little to no crop at all cause they used up all their energy. A lot of ancient people took advantage to store up acorns in a mast year, for the winter and to store up for the next year. Acorns were eaten by the ancient greeks and japanese, and lots of ancient peoples in famine times, but they also could be a staple of the diet, so in iberia they were pretty much a diet staple and we know this because we have evidence of them being prepared so in a neolithic site in south korea they found acorns or bits of acorn seeds next to hand grinders so we know they were making flour. So they were often used traditionally – coming out of ancient times even that way as a supplement especially in areas there’s a lot of acorns they were managed there was careful management of the forest to ensure good access to acorns. For example, you know who’s good at land management? Native americans.

LIZ

Whaaaat?

HAZEL

They were traditionally used by native americans as a particularly important part of the diet, they have a high fat content which means they have to be stored carefully.

LIZ

A lot of nuts do don’t they – it’s a thing why peanut butter isn’t hugely healthy it’s mostly fat.

HAZEL

But they do give you a lot of energy because of that. They’re also very protein rich, acorns, which is why they’re sometimes an important part of the diet especially in winter. So in california they would manage the forest to make sure oaks were prominent. Which sometimes meant controlled fires at the base of the oak, cause oaks were fairly tolerant to that, whereas other trees that might compete with the oak, in order to ensure a constant supply of acorns.

LIZ

The most extreme weeding I’ve ever heard of.

HAZEL

It is a bit more exciting than like idk getting a hoe and scratching out some weeds. So there were a couple particularly interesting traditional foods I found out about as part of this. There are some traditional korean and japanese foods made from acorns and apparently particularly in mounntainous areas and they’re still made today, apparently not as common today as is common with traditional dishes. They are a bit tricky to prepare but in times there’s not much else they would be key dishes, but you can interestingly you can get these they’re acorn flour noodles and you can get them in some kind of upscale korean supermarkets. like I guess You can get heritage varieties of things in waitrose, or fancy supermarkets in the uk.

LIZ

Like noodles.

HAZEL

Yeah acorn noodle soup is a thing that sounds great. Also there’s a kind of jelly which – I’m going to say this wrong – dotorimuk – which is a kind of acorn jelly which is rich in protein and starch so they leech the tannins out the acorn and make this jelly with it that’s served usually as a side dish with vegetables and stuff it sounds delicious and I really want to try it, but it may be beyond my capabilities to make so I might have to wait a little bit. Yeah so although you really don’t hear about it much today, acorns are a lot more important in historical diets than you would think but not just in ancient history – acorn coffee was used in the american civil war and in ww2 germany when they couldn’t get a supply of coffee.

LIZ

Ersatz foods.

HAZEL

Yeah!

LIZ

Wee should do an episode on ersatz foods.

HAZEL

Oh yeah that would be great.

LIZ

Maybe I’ll do that for next episode.

HAZEL

Yeah that’s a good idea cause I guess there’s more- like mock turtle soup.

LIZ

There’s mock apple pie as well. And all sorts of mock breads

HAZEL

I’m looking forward to this – just to find out what you put in apple pies that just tastes like them.

LIZ

Maybe you just put in regular apples but you’re really mean to them.

HAZEL

Wow… Oh oh I see.

LIZ

Yeah you got there eventually.

HAZEL

I get it you’re mocking the apples.

LIZ

That’s where I’m at.

HAZEL

So the thing is, and the thing that requires management sometimes of your oak trees is that oak trees don’t bear acorns until they reach between 20 and 50 years old.

LIZ

Wow.

HAZEL

Yup. So it really is a long term plan kind of thing and like you’ve got to have oak trees a really really long time, but if you have a load of old ones and they die you’re stuck for the acorns. There’s a wonderful german folk tale that uses this fact. The story is a german farmer made a bargain with the devil for the prosperity of his farm and he made this bargain that the devil could have his soul but only as long as he waited until the farmer’s first crop had been harvested. It seemed a pretty simple bargain right – but as in a lot of these stories where a simple farmer or woodcutter outwits the devil the farmer plants acorns as his first crop, thus ensuring himself a very long life before his first crop is ready to harvest.

LIZ

It’s brilliant. Very german I feel. Like there’s a lot of stories from that area specifically that are like ah, what’s this?

HAZEL

Humble person tricking the devil is one of my favourite tropes in folklore. It kinda makes sense that given there’s so many oaks all over teh place it would kinda become a symbol in folklore apparently the ancient roman goddess diana was depicted wearing a necklace of acorns. And wasn’t there a story about charles I or II hiding in an oak tree?

LIZ

Yes the story goes he was fleeing from the parliamentarians in the civil war and was hidden up an oak tree overnight and this is why a lot of pubs in england at this point are called the royal oak.

HAZEL

There’s so many there’s one 15 minutes down the road from me.

LIZ

Going to have to look up where the nearest royal oak is to me, got to beat 15 minutes.

HAZEL

Got a note here – as with every bread and thread episode there’s a pub link.

LIZ

There’s a pub a 3 minute drive from my house called the royal oak. It’s the one I walk past on the way to the sweet shop.

HAZEL

I know we were going to do a road trip to several pubs, but there’s no way we can visit every royal oak pub.

LIZ

Maybe after lockdown I’ll go to the one by me.

HAZEL

Yeah we can have a socially distanced drink in our respective royal oaks. So after all this I assume you’re wondering, how do I prepare acorns in a way I can eat? And I got these methods off a fantastic article from the woodland trust called are acorns edible and other acorn facts, and I will –

LIZ

Is the title of this article are there acorn facts?

HAZEL

Uh no it’s are acorns edible and other acorn facts.

LIZ

Oh, that makes more sense. I like the idea of titling an article are there acorn facts?

HAZEL

I don’t know, has anyone-

LIZ

Only acorn lies.

HAZEL

Only acorn fake news.

LIZ

Fakeorn!

HAZEL

I was thinking that and thought no ddon’t say it.

LIZ

I have no such impulse, as anyone who listens to my other podcast will know.

HAZEL

It’s guaranteed one of us is going to make the pun. Anyway you can roast acorns with a bit of salt for 15-20 mins with salt on a high heat, and they are crunchy and delicious and after you’ve roasted them you can add them to stews so that’s one to think about. To make acorn coffee – to make acorn flour or acorn coffee you have to leech out the tannins and you do this by soaking them in cold or hot water, cold water takes longer but it leaves intact the starch and the stuff that makes it turn into flour. If you’re making acorn flour you need to cold leech. For coffee, you can hot water leech with boiling water, it’s much quicker you can do it in about an hour, but cold leech takes a few days. So with coffee you hot leech then you roast them and then you grind the acorns and then you brew it like normal coffee. But to make acorn flour you do cold leeching so the floury stuff is stil there then you grind them and get fluffy acorn flour which you can use in biscuits and bread and in whatever really, you can use it as grain flour.

LIZ

I would love to try that we’re going conkering soon maybe I should see if we can get acorns as well.

HAZEL

Yeah, definitely do that.

LIZ

I found a thing of how you can make soap from conkers. If I find enough conkers I will report back.

HAZEL

Yeah… Also I’m pretty sure if you’re just roasting them you need to leech them first.

LIZ

That makes sense if they’re hypertoxic.

HAZEL

Otherwise they’ll probably still be – I don’t think they’re highly toxic but I don’t think they’ll taste nice.

LIZ

Nick as the person who likes coffee what do you think of the idea of trying acorn coffee?

Nick

It’s a nice waking juice.

LIZ

Can you answer in a serious way please.

NICK

Yeah why not.

LIZ

We have such a strong statement there.

HAZEL

I reckon it’s definitel tryable I’m not a coffee fan but I’d try it.

LIZ

I don’t really do bitter.

HAZEL

Mmm. Yeah I’m bitter anyway so I dunno, according to are acorns edible and other acorn facts – acorn coffee is caffeine free and has a unique taste and while unlike traditional coffees –

LIZ

Not a promising phrase. Earwax has a unique taste

HAZEL

And is unlike traditional wax.

LIZ

Doesn’t mean I want to eat it.

HAZEL

No. So what’s the local larder today?

LIZ

I did try it once cause of harry potter but –

HAZEL

Yeah you can get the beans can’t you

LIZ

No I mean I tried it and read the first book and –

HAZEL

Oh ok

LIZ

In my defense I was very small.

HAZEL

I don’t think it was portrayed positively in the book.

LIZ

Yeah but I was curious I thought I don’t know what that tastes like I should find out.

HAZEL

This definitely is explaining a few things about liz’s personality.

Probably bad plug.

LIZ

It’s all you need to know.

HAZEL

Anyway, local larder time!

LIZ

Yeah not really a local this time but I feel it’s small and it merits talking about. Blue raspberry.

HAZEL

What now?

LIZ

Blue raspberry.

HAZEL

I thought that was just a made up flavour.

LIZ

It is but it turns out it has a fun story. So before sort of the late 50s a lot of raspberry things were coloured with a dye called amaranth which is unrelated to the grain, and the sort of food safety people in the us went this is probably not actually good for you it became sort of a big thing of the colour they use for the raspberry drinks is incredibly unhealthy it’ll kill you – and they needed to stop making raspberry flavoured things this deep red colour – it was also helpful in another way cause you could show off more colours for the children.

HAZEL

Ethical marketing.

LIZ

Yeah. So where’s it gone – so this brand of slushies in america called icy – spelled icee – in the 70s ended up dying their new raspberry flavour bright flourescent blue. Which –

HAZEL

Doesn’t sound like it would be better for you than bright red.

LIZ

Absolutely not. Bright red which probably wasn’t that bad for you int he first place, considering the tiny amounts they use for these things. But it was a contrasting thing to the others, red cherry you got some sort of bright yellow lemon or pineapple things, and it was a pop of colour, obviously not a food colour it became a huge thing this blue drink.

HAZEL

Mm mblue flavour.

LIZ

The best part is you know how blue raspberry doesn’t taste of raspberry?

HAZEL

Yeah, I’ve not had much of it but I can’t imagine it’s a very authentic raspberry taste.

LIZ

Apparently the flavour of most blue raspberry things is a combination of banana cherry and pineapple.

HAZEL

Ok…

LIZ

Which I guess you do need to do something with the colour of that or it’s going to be the worst colour.

HAZEL

So blue raspberry is an aesthetic thing.

LIZ

It’s a huge flavour cause if you get an ice pop there’s always blue raspberry.

HAZEL

I do remember those.

LIZ

Any artificially fruit flavoured sweet there’s going to be a blue raspberry one… A combination of icee having blue in their logo so they leant towards blue and this absolute health freakout in the 60s. But there is a kind of raspberry that is blue.

HAZEL

Ok…

LIZ

Which is native to basically the western 1/3 of north america, it goes all the way from alaska down through the us down to chihuahua mexico. It’s called the whitebark raspberry or rubus lucodermus, but it’s completely unrelated to blue raspberry flavour and probably was not even a factor in making the raspberry flavour blue.

HAZEL

I’ve never really thought about this before but I guess the more you know…

LIZ

Not really a local larder but I think yeah, something that merited talking about even if it doesn’t merit its own episode.

HAZEL

That’s definitely a cool small fact – although it doesn’t make me warmly disposed to blue raspberry flavour things.

LIZ

I still love it. It’s that colour, I already knew it was incredibly artificial I just like the taste of it.

HAZEL

Fair enough. Wow. I have learned much today.

LIZ

So before we wrap up I want to mention we’re making some changes to patreon the 1 and 5 levels are staying the same, 1 is discord server, 5 there’s monthly bonus recipes um… We’re going to try something different at the 10 level which I believe is the cake level we will make a short bonus episode on whatever bread and thready topic you want and send it directly to you.

HAZEL

Think about that bread and thread on demand.

LIZ

Go to patreon.com/breadandthread if you want to make us talk about whatever your heart desires.

HAZEL

We will do it. We are simple creatures.

LIZ

You give us the money we say the thing.

HAZEL

We find facts and say them. Oh, by the way I checked oak trees are native to north america and the whole northern hemisphere. And north america has the most species of oak so you’re doing good.

LIZ

Good job north america.

HAZEL

Well done.

LIZ

So we hope you enjoyed today’s episode, if you have a suggestion you can email breadandthreadpodcast@gmail.com

HAZEL

You can also find us on twitter at breadandthread and we mentioned our patreon as well… Patreon.com/breadandthread?

LIZ

Yeah that’s it.

HAZEL

We’ll see you next time.

Closing music

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