Monday, November 23, 2009

Pods at night... and pictures!

Shortening fall days aren't stopping us yet...  Took my camera around as I was picking up tools. Here is Lindsay mixing up one of the final batches of light straw clay in the granny unit (no, she's not performing a ritual to raise the dead here)

Sasha's rafters.  This is actually pre-roof, so now it looks a little diffferent.... And Massey's woven creation... before it all gets covered up with mud.
It was dark by the time I got all the way to the backyard to my pod, but here are more pictures from the fall, mostly of the buildings.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Acorn gathering and trailer testing

Midday today, I hauled out the bamboo bike trailer from where it had been sitting under the redwood tree, molding and forgotten.   This post is both a review of its official maiden voyage (finally!), and a rambling account of foraging for and preparing acorns: the amazing nut which was once a food staple for native americans that that falls on the ground this time of year to sprout and create new oak trees, or to be carried off by hyperactive squirrels.  

I built the trailer months ago using this online pattern as a guide- which I highly recommend for its straightforward and clear directions and illustrations.  I bungied a few wooden wine boxes onto it to hold the bounty, and headed off. Well actually, first my bike chain broke, and then the front derailer snapped off in my hand, but the chain was easily fixable and who needs those extra gears anyhow?  Oh bike neglect.  So with a few less gears I pedaled down the road, the empty trailer loosely bouncing along behind me.  I mostly got used to the extra space I took up on the road with it, but I did accidently run over an abandoned rubber rain boot on the shoulder, which flipped the trailer (and luckily caused no harm and spilled no acorns).

Because of the nature of foraging, the trailer filled up gradually, which was an excellent way to test the effect of weight on it.  Bicycle speed suits acorn gathering- fast enough to get from tree to tree, slow enough to see nuts on the ground and pull over for them.  It didn't take long until going up hills was noticably harder and there was quite a bit of pull from behind.  I think all in all I gathered 30-40 lbs (?) from here to Moraga and back which necessitated walking up the steepest hills closest to home, but posed no problem on smallish hills.

So far from my limited experience- Massey and I gathered acorns last year as well, and were given some year-old acorns from friends- it sure seems as if letting them age for a year concentrates flavor and sweetness, though they also do get much harder, so it sounds like you are grinding up rocks when you throw them in the food processor to turn them into meal. 

The jars below contain acorns that have been ground into meal in the vitamix (amazing blender) and covered with cold water to start the leaching process.  In the past I have only done the leaching part with boiling water, which can be done in 30 minutes or so, but this time I am trying it with cold water (which apparently preserves more taste and nutrition, though takes days), draining off the liquid and refilling with fresh water twice a day.  the difference of the two jars here, is that the one on the left is this year's valley oak acorns, and the one on the right is valley oak acorns from last year.
The new acorns (on the left) have a very faint fresh smell, and the year old (on the right) smell like a cross between a good stout and molasses.  I don't know for sure, but I also suspect fermentation with the older acorns, because there is a consistent skim of bubbles on the top.  Anybody know more about this?  When the meal no longer tastes bitter it can either be used immediately or dried in the oven and stored in the fridge or freezer.

Time is running out to gather acorns for the year in the bay area- if anyone is interested in a foraging trip in the next week or two, let me know, I'll be going out again.