Monday, November 20

Pine Bark Flour Makes Me Thankful

     When Thanksgiving rolls around, my mom loves pulling out this post about my gratitude for a refrigerator that I wrote back in 2012. With Thanksgiving 2023 around the corner, I have been thinking about other things I am thankful for. I am thankful my oldest two kids get a break from school, giving them time to pursue the hobbies and interests they haven't had time for during their endless hours of classes. For my son, that means plenty of time sleeping in and playing Minecraft. But my daughter marches to a different tune. She has desperately missed the extra time she used to have when she was homeschooled, which she often used for wildcrafting. "I'd really like to get back to working on that deer hide," she started planning. "And I'd really like to make some pine-bark flour."

    Out into the yard she trotted with her army-green foraging bag, disappearing into the woods and away from time, brothers, and technology. She didn't return till her bag was stuffed full of pine bark (harvested in such a way as to not harm the trees of course). After roasting the bark, she tried various means of grinding it before settling on the blender. Before long she had about a half cup of fine brown powder that smelled... like a pine tree. The kitchen also received a nice even coat of brown powder. "All that work for this small bit of flour," she announced, then set off again for a second harvest.

    With plenty of pine bark flour to work with, she followed the steps of a cracker recipe... one which stated at the bottom that it tasted horrible, but she hoped she'd disagree. The crackers weren't burnt, despite their nearly black coloring...they were just a unique shade of pine bark. I popped one in my mouth. Imagine you're visiting a lumberjack's workshop and he has left a bowl of crackers sitting by the sander. You pick up a cracker coated in a thick layer of sawdust and decide "why not!?" This is what pine bark crackers taste like. Apparently numerous cultures throughout the world have used pine bark flour. A traditional Scandinavian bread is made with pine bark and rye. Mixing pine bark flour in with scanty wheat flour rations helped people survive during WWI. Well, maybe there is hope for the pine bark; she made a second batch of crackers with raisins and sugar that taste surprisingly similar to raisin bran...

    This all got me thinking about our food production. "Can you believe how long she has been working on this flour?" I said to my husband. "And that's nothing compared to how long the acorn flour took her!" For acorn flour she had to shell hundreds of acorns (pause here and note that this is a long, arduous process), boil them, chop them, dry them, then grind them (and that is WITH our modern oven and food processors!). How much time did people have to spend acquiring food before our modern conveniences? Lots. Lots and lots of time. Pretty much all the time. 

       I am thankful that I do not have to produce all of my food from the seed to the table. I am thankful I don't sit over a millstone all day to grind corn or bark or acorns. I am thankful that even though this year was a horrible year for mushroom foraging, I can buy mushrooms at the store. I am thankful I don't have to skin any animals. I'm thankful for the gift of time to read books with my kids and to paint, rather than spending the day threshing wheat. Do you realize how much time we actually have?! It always seems like not enough, but once you ponder eating acorns as a primary food source, you'll realize you have the most amazing gift of time in all the world. What will you do with it!? Well, I'll try not to complain so much when I have to spend a whole 30 minutes preparing our meals. And even though Thanksgiving dinner might take more time than a typical dinner, let's give thanks for the wide variety of foods spread out on the table in less time than our ancestors could have ever imagined. Give thanks for the sweet potatoes you didn't dig up, the turkey you didn't pluck, the greens you didn't grow, and let's not even get started on a food like macaroni and cheese! (the wheat to grind, the pasta to make, the cow to milk, the cheese to culture....)

(Those of you who DID dig up your sweet potatoes or pluck your turkey or grow your greens, my daughter would like to come eat at your house.)