The Winter Solstice is nearly upon us. The greenery of summer is gone, and the golden hues of fall are fading away. What is left to forage?
If the squirrels haven’t beaten you to it, acorns are still scattered across the forest floors ready to be transformed into a delightful finely ground meal to be used in baked goods and entrees of all kinds. While we won’t be going over how to prepare it in this post, Feral Foraging is working on a video to show you just how the acorn meal used in this recipe was made.
If you live on the Eastern side of the United States in Zones <7b, then you have likely seen a Shagbark Hickory (Carya Ovata) on your hikes. True to its common name, this tree has a very distinctive, flaky bark that makes it extremely easy to identify.
But, you won’t be tapping this tree to make the syrup. Instead, you’ll be boiling down toasted bits of bark. There are plenty of excellent guides on how to prepare this online, but one thing I should mention before we move on: be conscientious when harvesting the bark–only take the detached or fallen pieces, and not the segments of the flakes still connected to the tree. This is a very very slow growing species, and harvesting too much will have long-term consequences.
You will need to toast the bark prior to decocting it. You may or may not like the smell it gives off when being toasted, but once you’ve added the sugar and reached the finishing temperature for your syrup (which is relative to your elevation!), take a sip. You’ll see just why people adore this syrup.
We used Red Oak acorn meal in the pancake recipe below. The pancakes were denser than I had anticipated, reminiscent of the buckwheat pancakes I ate as a child. Expect a light brown interior–depending on the type of acorn you use, it might be darker or even have a reddish tinge. The flavor is faintly nutty and sweet, but not far off from any pancake made with a whole grain. The Shagbark Hickory syrup is like a smokey maple syrup, and far superior in depth and diversity of flavor than anything you could possibly purchase at the store.
Recipe: Acorn Pancakes (yield: 10)
-1 cup acorn meal
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-2.5 tsp baking powder
-3/4 tsp of salt
-1.25 cups of milk
-2 tbsp of avocado oil
-1 tsp of honey (optional)
-Dash of cinnamon + coriander (optional)
-Mix dry and wet ingredients thoroughly in separate bowls.
-Combine the contents of both bowls, and mix until smooth.
-Allow the mixture to sit for 10-15 minutes
-Add a generous amount of avocado or canola oil to non-stick pan, allowing the oil to heat up prior to adding the batter.
-Add small-to-medium sized dollops to the pan, cooking roughly 2 minutes on each side. Be aware that your first batch will likely cook slower than the later batches.
-Serve with butter, or Shagbark Hickory syrup 😉