Posts Tagged With: Emory oak acorn

Atole, a mug of warm comfort

Hi friends, Amy here with a hot drink way more satisfying and nourishing than hot cocoa for a quiet, cold night. Atole is a drinkable porridge that can be flavored to suit your taste and whim. Of course, fond family memories of making and enjoying it this time of year make it all the sweeter.

The ingredients are flexible and it is a great way to showcase a small amount of wild harvested or specialty food items.

Corn tortilla meal, in this case from a very starchy blue corn, was treated with lime, dried and ground for making tortillas or tamales. Of course it also comes in white and yellow varieties, but all colors are much starchier than grocery store corn meal. There are also toasted starchy corn meals specifically for making atole. If you don’t have of these on hand, you can substitute corn starch or a mix of corn starch and regular corn meal.

I used water but milk of any sort (cow, coconut, almond, rice) is great. Local honey is delicious, but any sweetener, including granulated sugar, is fine. Or the drink can be left unsweetened.

I shelled and ground acorns from Emory Oak trees (Quercus emoryi), that are mild and edible as is. Other species of acorns are more bitter but can be leached by putting the shelled acorns, whole or ground, in cold water for a few minutes and draining. Repeat the leaching of tannins this way until they are not bitter, to your taste. Mesquite meal is excellent in place of, or in addition to, the acorn meal.

Atole is great with or without chocolate. Cocoa powder works perfectly, but instead I toasted raw cacao nibs in a dry pan until shiny and fragrant, then ground them. For spice, I added a chiltepin to the molcajete with the nibs. A coffee grinder is also a excellent way to grind the acorns and nibs.

I also added a spoon of Mano Y Metate Mole Negro powder for spice. Cinnamon or vanilla would also be welcome additions. Everything goes together cold in a pan and thickens as it comes to a simmer.

Due to ingredient variation, more liquid may be needed to make drinkable. Adjust the seasonings and add a pinch of salt to taste.

Enjoy, stirring often to keep everything suspended. Mmmmm… Stay safe and warm!

Atole de bellota
From Amy Valdés Schwemm of Mano Y Metate

Per serving:

1 cup water or milk (cow, coconut, nut, grain, etc)
1 tablespoon corn masa meal (or corn starch)
1 tablespoon acorn meal (or mesquite meal or more corn)

To taste:
1 tablespoon cacao nibs (or cocoa powder)
1 tablespoon Mano Y Metate Mole Negro powder (see ManoYMetate.com)
1 tablespoon honey
1 chiltepin
A dash of salt

If stating from whole acorns, shell and grind. If bitter, cover with water, soak for 30 minutes and drain. Repeat as necessary for your taste.

Toast the cacao nibs until shiny and fragrant, then grind with the chiltepin.

Put the water in a small pan and whisk in the acorn and corn meals. Heat, stirring often, until slightly thick. Add the rest of the seasonings and stir until well combined. Drink in mugs, stirring with a spoon to suspend the coarser parts as you enjoy.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, herbs, Libations, Mesquite, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Peanut Butter Bellota Bars

As we are sequestering, we Sonoran Desertofiles should all be out harvesting juicy tunas, ok more on that later, because….

It’s also bellota time!  In mid-August, we went on a bellota quest. Three of us set out, socially distanced, up into Arizona’s oak woodland near the border.  Two inspiring foodie-pals, Dr.Letitia McCune “BotanyDoc.com” and Mission Garden mover-shaker Emily Rockey, y yo–Tia Marta–were on a treasure hunt to relocate the wonderful, giving trees where my Tohono O’odham mentor Juanita Ahil used to gather wi-yo:thi.  Our quarry:  the little acorns of Emory oak.

Socially distanced bellota-rustlers under giant Emory oaks near the border

Yes we found them, with thanks–Ah such plenty!  Fruit of Quercus emoryi  are the only acorns I know of in the world that don’t need to be leached of their tannins before eating.  You can eat them fresh off the tree.

Quick-wash the dust off your bellota harvest

…then quick-dry or “roast” your bellotas in the hot sunshine

Bellotas are increditbly nutritious– full of complex carbs that help balance blood sugar and almost 50% rich oil similar in quality to olive oil.

But they require some work, and can be difficult to de-hull to extract each little morsel of goodness inside–the nutmeat.

Always check for holes–We aren’t the only ones who eat bellota.  Nature needs to feed all her creatures.

There are lots of ways to crack the shell.  I  like to crack them ever-so-gently when placed longitudinally between opposite molars, then manually remove the shell.  Jesus Garcia, the Desert Museum’s primo ethnobotanist, demonstrates the “traditional Sonoran” method using his incisors to cut a “waistline” around the midriff of the acorn so two perfect half-cups of shell release a perfect nutmeat.  Experiment to find your own favorite method.

Don’t use the rolling pin method unless your bellota shells are very brittle–or you’ll be hunter/gatherer once again, indoors.

…A tedious process no matter what. Hey, try shelling bellotas while listening to audiobooks or good music.

As with your molars, if you’re careful, cracking bellota shells with pliers can yield perfect nutmeats.

Ingredients you’ll need for Peanut Butter Bellota Bars (shelled bellotas to left, mesquite flour to right)

This easy recipe combines sweets, like mesquite pod flour and piñon nuts, with the excitingly bitter notes of bellotas.  Bellota Bars, with chocolate, are a decadent dessert served with ice-cream.  Without chocolate (less melt-able), they are an energizing bar great for hikes and picnics.

RECIPE — Tia Marta’s Peanut Butter Bellota Bars —

Ingredients:

1/2 C chunky organic peanut butter

1/3 C butter

1   C sugar

1/2  C  brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1  C  flour (any flour combo works–I used 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour & 1/2 cup barley flour)

1/4 C  mesquite flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 C  shelled pinyon nuts. (optional)

1/2  C high cacao chocolate morsels (optional)

Topping:   1/4  C shelled bellotas (Quercus emoryi acorn nutmeats)

As you sprinkle bellotas on top, pat the dough evenly into all corners of your pyrex baking dish.

Recipe Directions:  Preheat oven to 350F.  Cream peanut butter and butter.  Add sugar and brown sugar.  Beat in eggs.  Add vanilla and beat until smooth.  Separately, sift flours, baking powder and salt together.  Mix these dry ingredients into wet ingredients thoroughly.  Add optional pinyones and/or chocolate morsels according to your “richness palette.”  Press dough into a 8×8″ greased pyrex pan.  Sprinkle bellotas as “topping”.  Bake 30-35 minutes.  Cool, then cut into delectable chewy energy bars.

When cool, cut into small squares, as they are super-rich and energy-packed.

If you can’t harvest your own bellotas, you can buy them this time of year, before Dia de San Francisco in October, at most Mexican markets or along the road to Magdalena, Sonora.  They will keep a long time in your frig or freezer for future joyful cracking.  Nature’s wild bounty is so diverse in our borderlands desert!

Find many of our Southwest traditional foods respectfully captured in my artwork at www.flordemayoarts.com for all to enjoy.

Check our SavortheSouthwest blog archive for other bellota recipe ideas and anecdotes.

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Savoring Bellotas in Apache Acorn Stew

Emory oak acorns (bellotas in Spanish, chich’il in Ndee, and wi-yo:thi or toa in O’odham), harvested from our native Southwestern live-oak Quercus emoryi, have traditionally provided a superbly nutritious and flavorful summer staple for the Tohono O’odham, the Apache, and other local people of the borderlands. (MABurgess photo)

You can shake them off the tree.  You can buy them by the (expensive!) bag on the roadside en route to Magdalena on pilgrimage for Dia de San Francisco.  You can sometimes find them in small Mexican markets in Tucson–if you ask.  These are bellotas, a seasonal treat of late summer gathered from the desert oak grasslands and woodlands flanking our sky islands.

The White Mountain Apache now have a richly productive community farm. It is the venue for their Traditional Foods Festival where they celebrate their young farmers, their delicious roasted heirloom corn, and many wild foods that their ancestors thrived on. (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to share a recipe learned on a trip recently to the Ndee Nation, to the Western Apache Traditional Foods Festival.  With my talented friend Dr. Letitia McCune (known as BotanyDoc) we enjoyed this special event where elders and young people together were celebrating and sampling their harvest of heirloom crops and wild mountain foods. Botanist and diabetes-nutritionist McCune has recently provided the Ndee Nation with nutritional analyses of their ancient, honored foods.  It’s eye-opening to learn how important the traditional Native foods are for health and disease prevention.

Apache ladies at their Traditional Foods Festival prepare cauldrons of acorn stew. As the stock simmers they add pieces of dough to make dumplings that will take on the rich flavor of the bellotas. (MABurgess photo)

The breeze was full of delicious aromas of oakwood smoke, pit-roasted corn in the husk and juicy banana yucca pods (…that’s another post!) We watched as the Ndee cooks slowly simmered locally-farmed squash and chunks of range beef over the open fire.  They had prepped dough to pull into ribbons then tore pieces to drop into the stock as dumplings.  Over some hours, we kept returning to the cook-fire to watch the stew process.  Whole corn cobs covered with plump kernels went into the giant pot.  At last the cooks brought out the precious acorn flour they had ground from the chich’il (Quercus emoryi) they’d collected this summer and stored carefully for feast occasions.  With the acorn flour the soup stock became thicker and “creamier.”

You can easily crack the shells of Emory oak acorns (bellotas) with a rolling pin or, as in this image, on a stone metate with a mano to release the yummy golden nut-meat inside. (MABurgess photo)

Acorns are chuck-full of healthy oils that are akin to olive oil, complex carbs that slow down the release of sugars into the bloodstream, enabling sustained energy and blood sugar balancing.  It is no surprise that Indigenous people all over the planet have used acorns wherever oaks naturally grow.  The big issue with most acorns is their high tannin content, a chemical that can be damaging internally, but which can be easily leached out with water treatments beforehand.  Fortunately –hooray for our Emory oak acorn!–bellota–it is one of the few acorns which has low tannin content and can be eaten raw right off the tree!

You may not be able to see it but you can taste its wonderful bitter-sweetness–the flavor and thickening of Emory oak acorn flour–in delectable Apache acorn stew. (MABurgess photo)

Here’s a recipe for the Apache Acorn Stew that we tasted in delight at the Festival, here adapted to serving 8-10 persons instead of a whole tribal gathering:

Ingredients:

4-5 qts (or more) drinking water

1-2 lbs bigger-than-bite-size chunks of stew beef or wild elk meat

4-5 summer squash of whatever you grow (e.g.medium to large zucchini or 8-10 paddie-pan)

8-10 whole corn-on-the-cob (de-husked, broken in half)

1-3 cups prepared bread dough, pinched into ribbons and torn into 2″ pieces

1/2-1cup ground Emory oak acorn flour

Directions:

Over an open fire in a big pot, boil beef until tender, making a rich stock.  Add chunked/diced summer squash. Keep simmering. Add torn pieces of bread dough and let puff up.  Add whole corn cobs cut in half. When everything is well-simmered and tastes great, and still on the fire, gradually stir in the acorn flour.  Serve outside with a sample of each ingredient in each bowl.

This hearty stew has elements of Mexican cocido, but in taste it is all its own.  Enjoy the timeless flavors!

An interesting note:  It was the Spanish who brought the name “bellota”–their name for Old World cork oak–to apply to our New World Emory oak, as the two oaks are so similar in their animate, tortuous yet graceful shape.  Andalusians must have felt quite at home when they first encountered our Emory oak in what is now southern Arizona.  To gather bellotas for yourself, head to the grasslands in July or early August to groves of the beautiful Emory oak, shake a branch and let the bellotas fall onto a blanket, and enjoy these precious acorns as Nature’s manna.

[For another traditional acorn stew recipe check out SavorSister and gourmet cook Carolyn Niethammer’s American Indian Cooking, Univ.of Nebraska Press. You can find other great acorn recipes and instructions in DesertHarvesters‘ book Eat Mesquite and MoreSouthwest Foraging by wild-crafter and herbalist John Slattery also gives good instructions how to remove tannins from acorns.   Grow your own heirloom squash and corn, and white Sonora wheat for dough, as ingredients for this stew with saved seed from NativeSeedsSEARCH  !]

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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