Thanksgiving is a time to remember all our reasons to be thankful. For many, an appreciation of nature is among the things they are thankful for. So, it’s only fitting that some holiday menus will include nature-inspired drinks and dishes.
“My daughter has asked me to bring pine tea to our Thanksgiving dinner at her house, so I’ll be doing two drinks, pine tea and sumac tea; not the poison kind, but the kind that tastes and looks just like pink lemonade,” said Marilyn Grau, a volunteer with Friends of Mistletoe State Park who leads the park’s Wild Gourmet dinners. “I may try to make something with acorns since we have a nice crop this year and I have processed some.”
Grau said she might make a pecan pie using acorns rather than pecans.
“If you want to try acorns, be sure to pick up the big, relatively sweet White Oak acorns; the small Red Oak acorns are far too high in tannin,” said Grau. “I have learned that if you freeze the acorns, they are easier to shell. After shelling, soak, soak, soak in water to leach the tannins out; otherwise, the acorns will be bitter.”
Grau recommends soaking the acorns for several days, changing the water as it turns red with tannin. The acorns should be soaked until the water stays clear.
“I use a blender or food processor to chop the acorns to almost a cornmeal consistency and then bread them to dry in a warm oven, as needed,” she added.
If acorns have been properly leached, says Grau, they will have a mild, somewhat sweet taste, and a very dense meat.
“I have blended them with brown sugar and sprinkled them over the top of a sweet potato casserole,” she said. “They can also be baked into breads or muffins, using half acorn and half wheat flour, since acorn flour has very little natural leavening, and will make a very flat bread.”
Grau shares her recipes for her pine and sumac teas below, but notes that there are a lot of recipes online. She said those who try the recipes will be pleasantly surprised.
“Just remember that I do this just for the fun of it,” she said. “It’s much, much simpler, and just as tasty, to go buy things from the store. I guess I just do it because I can!
“And if the family gets involved in gathering the ingredients, it can be a fun family bonding time,” said Grau.
GRAU’S TEA RECIPES
Pick, wash and cut fresh pine needles into 1-inch pieces; enough to fill a coffee carafe to the top. Run clear water through the coffee maker to fill the carafe/pine needles and let them steep for several hours. Strain well (through a colander, coffee filters, cheesecloth, etc.) to get out little bits of pine needles, wood or pine oil). Sweeten to taste.
This is a mild tea that is high in vitamin C and can be drunk hot or cold.
This is “Native American Lemonade.” Use the dark red, fuzzy berries of the Staghorn Sumac, not the white berries of the Poison Sumac. You’ll see these clearly, hanging in bunches after the colorful fall foliage has dropped from the plant. Just be sure not to pick the sumac from alongside a highway or in an area where pesticides, gas/oil runoff, etc. has contaminated it. (Also – and this is crucial – make sure to rub the fuzzy berries; then taste your fingers to make sure they are sour, like lemons. With too much rain, the acid washes off, and you can’t make the tea.)
Simply rinse off the berries; then soak in cold water (with stems on, since it’s difficult to pick the berries off) several hours to overnight. (Do not use hot water, as this will release tannins from the berries and make the drink bitter.) Remove the berries, and strain the liquid. It will be clear, pink and sour. Sweeten as you would lemonade.
Delicious and not even the kids will know it’s not lemonade.